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After Two-Month Campaign, CMP Transmission Project Opponents Deliver 100,000 Petition Signatures

Robert F. Bukaty
AP Images
In this Tuesday, May 28, 2019 photo a sign in protest of Central Maine Power's controversial hydropower transmission corridor is stretched across a business sign in The Forks, Maine.

Opponents of Central Maine Power’s proposed transmission line through the state’s western woods delivered more than 100,000 petition signatures to the secretary of state on Thursday, in their second bid to give voters a say on the project’s fate.

The petition drive was spearheaded by a coalition of local grassroots opponents, joined by big energy companies that could lose profits if CMP is successful in its effort to bring hydroelectricity from Canada into the regional power grid to serve Massachusetts customers.

Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court last year ruled that a previous referendum question that aimed to kill the $1 billion project was unconstitutional. Project opponent Tom Saviello, a former state senator, says the new measure would require a retroactive vote by the state Legislature to approve or reject the transmission project or, in the future, others like it.

“Two months, 100,000 signatures is a pretty good accomplishment that I think sends a pretty dramatic message that people want a say in this exercise,” he says.

If the secretary of state certifies more than 63,000 signatures, the question could wind up on the statewide ballot in November. Jon Breed, a spokesperson for a political action committee funded by CMP’s parent company, Avangrid Networks, says the new petition drive succeeded thanks to at least $1.5 million spent by project opponents.

“This is an effort by the fossil fuel industries to stop a project that would encroach on their market share,” he says.

Two of the energy producers that oppose the project rely mostly on natural gas facilities, while the largest, NextEra, operates both fossil fuel and renewable energy facilities. Affiliates of CMP’s parent company, Avangrid, does as well, mostly through renewable energy projects but also providing natural-gas pipeline services for roughly a million customers in the Northeast and operating a natural gas-fired energy plant in Oregon.

A Columbia University graduate, Fred began his journalism career as a print reporter in Vermont, then came to Maine Public in 2001 as its political reporter, as well as serving as a host for a variety of Maine Public Radio and Maine Public Television programs. Fred later went on to become news director for New England Public Radio in Western Massachusetts and worked as a freelancer for National Public Radio and a number of regional public radio stations, including WBUR in Boston and NHPR in New Hampshire.