AUGUSTA, Maine — Opponents of Central Maine Power’s proposed hydropower corridor through western Maine are proposing changes to local ordinances that could be roadblocks to the unpopular project.
Wilton and Caratunk are considering moratoriums on new utility infrastructure following symbolic votes in 21 towns against the New England Clean Energy Connect proposal, which would take Hydro-Quebec power to the regional grid with a 145-mile, $1 billion corridor. The Maine Public Utilities Commission granted it an initial permit in April, though more permits are required.
The changes wouldn’t necessarily stop the project because of state preemption laws, but they could delay it and force the embattled utility to blow through pointed local opposition as opponents mull a referendum bid that would be aimed at killing the project for good.
Charlie Lavin, Wilton’s code enforcement officer, has threatened to resign over the moratorium proposal, saying the effort is targeted at the unpopular utility. Tom Saviello, the Wilton selectman who proposed the moratorium and leads a committee exploring an anti-corridor referendum, noted his town’s 162-1 vote against the corridor in March.
“Is it political? Well, let me say this: I got elected as a selectman to represent the people of Wilton,” said Saviello, a former state senator. “I ran unopposed the last two times. I think I understand what the town wants.”
In a statement, Central Maine Power urged towns to take the project’s benefits — including a study’s findings that it would create 1,600 jobs and lead to a reduction in regional carbon emissions — into account. Opponents have environmental concerns and cite the lack of a guarantee the corridor will deliver new energy.
More local moratoriums will likely be floated over the next few months. Corridor opponents have a potent case: A March poll from the Natural Resources Council of Maine found 89 percent opposition in Franklin County and 85 percent opposition in Somerset County. Central Maine Power also faces a utilities commission investigation into billing issues.
Saviello’s proposal could be voted on at a special town meeting in September, though he may change it before then. It would delay projects falling under a section of zoning ordinances applying to utility infrastructure. He cited a need to “develop rules about what has to be done to come through our town.”
Lavin said he may resign over it at a meeting this month, according to The Daily Bulldog. On Tuesday, he cited a stance for “property owner rights,” though he conceded the utility isn’t trusted and the moratorium is likely to pass.
“I fully expect that Tom will be able to muster the moratorium. He’s very adept at that, so I fully expect that’ll transpire,” he said. “So, I’ll either eat my words or have to resign.”
Saviello said he sees the moratorium as a way to work within a state law allowing utilities to apply to the public utilities commission to exempt them from local ordinances under certain circumstances. The law could come into play if several towns set up moratoriums.