The stage is being set for a statewide battle over Central Maine Power’s plan to build a power line through Maine’s western woods. Opponents today submitted more than enough signatures to put the project’s future on the November ballot.
Energized activists who worked on the voter petition drive carted dozens of file boxes filled with petitions into the Augusta state offices for delivery to the secretary of state.
“Goodbye corridor!” says Meg Osgood of Portland, one of dozens of canvassers taking a celebratory turn after months of door-knocking and staffing tables. “This was a really easy topic to talk about with Mainers, because we’re overwhelmingly opposed to the corridor. People were very open to the discussion here and mostly on the same page.”
The 141-mile project would bring electricity from Canadian hydropower dams into the New England grid to serve Massachusetts consumers. Mostly it would expand the footprint of existing power line corridors in Maine, but some 53 miles of new corridor would be cut from the Canadian border to cross the Kennebec River Gorge before joining existing lines in Caratunk.
The effects on scenic and ecological resources, as well as the region’s outdoors economy, has galvanized the opposition.
“The chance for Mainers to have a say is a big thing in this state,” says Steven McCarthy, a building contractor from Rome, Maine. “We’ve been railroaded with a lot of projects, and we didn’t want that to happen with this one. Furthermore, the environmental impacts are not only being affected here in Maine but also in Canada, They’re not being fair to the First Nations and indigenous people. And they’re not being fair to the citizens of the state of Maine, who overwhelmingly do not want this project.”
The proposed measure would reverse a decision by state utility regulators to permit the project. Project supporters say that would mark a questionable end-run around the Public Utilities Commission and the statutes its decision was based on.
CMP has poured millions of dollars into a political action committee called Clean Energy Matters, which has been placing ads on television and online calling attention to jobs and other economic benefits of the project.
The PAC and CMP are also highlighting what they say would be reductions in climate-warming greenhouse gases that would result from bringing low-polluting hydropower into the region.
“I think our commitment will be unwavering to make sure that the true facts about the project are out there,” says Thorn Dickinson, a vice president at CMP, which is owned by Avangrid, itself a subsidiary of Spanish energy giant Iberdrola.
Dickinson notes that some of the project’s opposition is funded by natural gas generation companies who do business in Maine and who could lose profits over the 20-year span of the hydropower contract.
“[That’s] one of the big reasons why we’re here today, and our belief that the fossil fuel companies that have long opposed this project, particularly for the fact that they will be losing hundreds of millions of dollars unless they can get the project stopped,” he says.
A representative for Calpine, which operates a natural gas electricity plant in Westbrook and helped pay for signature gatherers, could not immediately be reached for comment.
To qualify the referendum language for the ballot, 63,000 signatures must be validated by the secretary of state within a month, a process CMP says it will be watching closely. After that, the Legislature can either enact the measure itself or send it on to voters. And lawmakers also have the option of voting to place a competing measure on the ballot.