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Politics

Voters pull the plug on Central Maine Power's transmission line

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Steve Mistler
/
Maine Public
Supporters of Yes on 1 at a campaign gathering on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.

Maine voters delivered a decisive rebuke Tuesday to the state's largest utility, Central Maine Power, when they halted construction of its $1 billion transmission corridor through western Maine in a vote of 60% to 40%, as of early Wednesday morning.

The focus now shifts from a record-shattering $90 million ballot campaign to its anticipated legal challenges.

For more than two years, CMP and its affiliated campaign committees spent more than $42 million trying to convince voters that the corridor project delivering hydropower from Canada is as much in Maine's interest as it is CMP's.

But even with a nearly $22 million campaign assist from Hydro-Quebec, the electricity supplier for the project, and endorsements from Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, voters were not persuaded.

For its part, CMP is blaming the owners of fossil fuel plants in New England that could lose some revenues if the New England Clean Energy Connect, as it's called, goes through. Those companies spent nearly $30 million to support the campaign to kill the plan project.

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Steve Mistler
Sandi Howard looks on as Yes on 1 colleagues Tom Saviello (center) and Sen. Russell Black, R-Wilton, celebrate Tuesday’s win.

It didn't help that billing issues from a couple of years ago and bad customer service rankings put the utility in a massive public relations hole from which it has not yet fully recovered.

But Tuesday's vote wasn't just about that, according to supporters of Question 1, who framed the corridor as an exercise in corporate bullying.

Sandi Howard, who helped spearhead the campaign, says that she expects CMP to press on despite the referendum result.

"But again, I don't think they're acting in good faith knowing that the will of Maine voters have spoken. The other thing I would just say is that if this outcome for Yes on 1 prevails then they need to stop construction immediately," she said.

CMP, however, doesn't appear ready to give up the fight for a project on which it has already spent $400 million.

In fact, corridor opponents expect the utility will continue working on the project to strengthen an anticipated legal challenge to the referendum.

CMP's lead campaign committee suggested that such a challenge is imminent, saying in a statement that referendum is "unconstitutional" and that the fight will continue.

Maine Public reporter Fred Bever contributed to this story.