AUGUSTA, Maine — Opponents of Central Maine Power’s proposed hydropower corridor said they delivered more than 75,000 signatures to the Maine secretary of state’s office on Monday, setting up a likely November referendum against the utility over the $1 billion project.
Organizers with Say No to NECEC, a group organizing the referendum against the 145-mile corridor that would take Hydro-Quebec power to the regional grid — formally called the New England Clean Energy Connect — said they had roughly 12,000 more signatures from registered voters than required to get a question that would kill the project on the 2020 ballot.
Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a Democrat, has 30 days to validate those signatures before the referendum is officially on the ballot, but organizers were signaling confidence that they had the numbers last week and were jubilant as signatures were delivered.
Opponents of the corridor said the effort’s backing stems from CMP’s flagging reputation. Late last year, J.D. Power and Associates released a survey ranking it last amid residential utilities for customer satisfaction nationally and the Maine Public Utilities Commission assessed a $10 million penalty against it last month over billing issues.
“Mainers simply don’t trust CMP,” said Sandra Howard, one of the campaign’s organizers and a director of Say No to NECEC.
Jon Breed, who heads the CMP-funded committee dedicated to opposing the referendum, said they will be watching the certification process “closely” while promoting lower energy rates and $200 million in upgrades to the state’s energy grid CMP says will come along with the project.
Verification of the signatures will kick a campaign that has spanned almost half a year and already seen millions of dollars into higher gear. CMP poured $2.3 million into its campaign over the last three months of 2019. Hydro-Quebec, the province-owned power company partnering with the Maine utility, recently paid a $35,000 ethics fine with two other complaints pending against anti-corridor groups.
Meanwhile, the permitting process for the project through western Maine has been moving along. It was approved last year by the Maine Public Utilities Commission after CMP inked a benefits package that won the support of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, while it awaits permitting from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and federal agencies.