March 20, 2019
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Cutting a deal on CMP’s $1 billion project in her old backyard poses early challenge for Mills

Fred Bever | Maine Public
Fred Bever | Maine Public
Supporters and opponents of CMP's proposed transmission line gather ahead of a 2019 hearing on the issue.

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Two sources familiar with negotiations over Central Maine Power’s proposed transmission line to deliver electricity from Quebec dams to Massachusetts via Maine said Gov. Janet Mills backs the plan after the company outlined a draft benefits package worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

It signals a shift away from the Democratic governor’s skepticism about the controversial project that dated back to her 2018 campaign for the office and underscores that her favorable comments on a Maine radio show this week were more than simply a rhetorical pivot.

Mills reportedly is supporting the project in confidential negotiations around a settlement aimed at wooing detractors of the project. The benefits package proposed by CMP — which was leaked last week to media outlets including Maine Public out of confidential negotiations — would provide more than $250 million in sweeteners over 40 years to Maine. The centerpiece is $190 million in rate reduction for Mainers with $50 million for low-income customers.

When it leaked, backers included Public Advocate Barry Hobbins, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Conservation Law Foundation, which would co-manage a $15 million fund for electric vehicle charging stations and rebates on electric vehicles. By Tuesday, the list included the Governor’s Energy Office, according to the two sources. One provided a picture.

On Tuesday, Mills told Maine Public’s “Maine Calling” she was impressed by the “progress that they are making” on the settlement. Her staff held a meeting the next day with Ignacio Galan, the CEO of Iberdrola, CMP’s Spanish parent company, which was was first reported by Maine Public on Thursday.

Mills spokesman Scott Ogden said staffers for the governor met with Galan for 20 minutes to press him on CMP billing issues that are being investigated by the Maine Public Utilities Commission and the governor entered the meeting at the end to introduce herself. Ogden said the corridor wasn’t discussed and a CMP spokeswoman said it was an introductory meeting.

Ogden said on Thursday that Mills “will carefully examine the details of the finalized stipulation.” He said on Friday he couldn’t confirm that the energy office signed the draft agreement, noting that “no final decision has been made.” The agreement could also change throughout February and is contingent upon commission approval of the project, but this move from Mills means the most powerful state politician finds the deal satisfactory.

The billing issues and the corridor project have made CMP a bit of a third rail in Maine politics. With this, Mills is diving into a host of charged issues. Doug Herling, CMP’s CEO, told the Portland Press Herald last year “we’re probably the most mistrusted company now” and lawmakers are considering a plan to buy out CMP and the state’s other major utility and enshrine a massive, consumer-owned utility.

There is significant grassroots opposition to the corridor with key environmental groups not having signed onto the draft settlement yet. Riley Ploch, a spokesman for Stop the Corridor, a group that hasn’t disclosed its funders, credited opponents with jamming the voice mailbox in Mills’ office after her Tuesday interview.

Opposition is strong through the western Maine swath that would house the corridor — and where Mills is from in Farmington. There is more to be ironed out here, but it is turning into one of the major hot-button issues of the governor’s young tenure.

BDN Maine Focus writer Josh Keefe contributed to this item.


Today in A-town

There is absolutely nothing on the legislative calendar today. Everyone has gone home. It’s just us and the hardworking state employees who make the State House function. Here is our soundtrack.


Reading list

— Maine’s new health and human services commissioner said restoring public trust and employee morale rank at the top of her to-do list. Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew laid out her goals and answered questions during a Thursday interview. She takes over the perennially embattled department as the agency’s child welfare arm, the Office of Child and Family Services, is in the midst of an audit, commissioned last year after a government watchdog report found evidence that DHHS mismanaged the handling of abuse complaints related to the deaths of two young girls.

— The federal government avoided another shutdown, but the president still plans to declare an emergency so he can build his southern border wall. President Donald Trump said he would sign a compromise spending bill that Congress approved Thursday night, but he will use executive authority to come up with the money to build his border wall. All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation voted for the spending bill but voiced opposition to Trump’s use of emergency powers to secure the money for his wall.

— Maine companies are finding ways around the president’s harsh tariffs on steel and aluminum. Two Maine companies have filed a total of 11 exemptions from the steel and aluminum tariffs that Trump imposed last year so they can affordably acquire the materials they need for their businesses. The two companies, Soleras Advanced Coatings of Biddeford and Eldur Corp. of Bangor, have joined companies across the nation that have filed nearly 50,000 applications for exemptions from the tariffs. Of that total, more than 14,000 exemptions have been granted to at least 370 companies, with 27,000 applications still pending, according to an Associated Press analysis.

— A Maine man accused of murdering his wife will get a new trial. On Thursday, Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy declared a mistrial four days into the trial of Noah Gaston, who is accused of shooting his wife in their Windham home. The mistrial was requested by Gaston’s defense attorney, Rob Andrews, after the state medical examiner on Tuesday said that his initial opinion about critical evidence — related to the path that pellets from a shotgun Gaston admitting firing — had changed.


Feline film fest

Monday is a holiday for state, federal and municipal employees, but not for those of us who work for the BDN.

However, I am going to take it off because I need time to prepare for the Cat Video Fest, which opens next month at the Portland Museum of Art. I have to break the news to our cats that, despite years of bit parts in Facebook videos designed to convince followers to adopt foster kittens, none of them has landed a starring role.

As I write this, I am surrounded by four fickle felines. Each expects a lead role. They’re not even going to get a supporting role or walk-on. If you think herding cats is hard, try disappointing divas. Here’s your soundtrack. — Robert Long


Programming note

Because Monday is Presidents Day, a federal holiday, Daily Brief will not be published. We will return on Tuesday, Feb. 19. And sorry for the late email delivery today — we were working to confirm things until this went out. Here’s our soundtrack.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, aacquisto@bangordailynews.com, and rlong@bangordailynews.com.



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