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The effort to stop Central Maine Power Co.’s $1 billion hydropower corridor took center stage during parent Avangrid’s conference call with investors Wednesday.
In response to questions from several Wall Street analysts about the effect of a potential referendum to halt the project, Avangrid executives said they are closely watching the validation of more than 75,000 signatures submitted to the Maine secretary of state’s office on Feb. 3.
Some 63,067 signatures, or 10 percent of the votes cast for governor in 2018, are needed to get the anti-corridor referendum on November’s ballot.
The validation will be completed March 4. After that, CMP’s political action committee, Clean Energy Matters, will have 10 days to review the signatures for their validity, said Doug Stuver, Avangrid’s chief financial officer.
“Now, everything is ‘systems go’ to start construction in the third quarter,” he said. CMP already has approvals for the project from the Maine Public Utilities Commission and the Land Use Planning Commission for the project.
CMP still needs approvals from the Department of Environmental Protection, the Army Corps of Engineers, ISO-New England and a presidential permit for the project. Municipal permits also may be needed. Stuver said the project can be started without having the presidential permit in hand.
Opponents of the corridor have said the effort’s backing stems from CMP’s flagging reputation. They also have questioned the benefit of the project to Mainers and potential environmental harm.
Asked about CMP’s options if the referendum gets on the ballot and doesn’t favor CMP, Avangrid CEO James Torgerson did not comment specifically. He said the goal is to start construction as soon as CMP has all the permits and then assess the project from there.
“We’re going to monitor how things are going in Maine,” he said. “We’ll make a decision as to how much we’re going to invest at that point in time.”
He said Clean Energy Matters will focus on explaining to Mainers how they will benefit from the project.
Torgerson also would not comment on the results of monthly polls by the political action committee on how the referendum effort was doing.
“We’re continuing to push very hard,” he said. “We think it will make a difference when people can understand the facts around the project.”
He said more information may be available by Avangrid’s investor day event in May.
Asked if he expects CMP to prevail If the referendum makes the November ballot, he said, “That’s our goal.”
A majority vote is needed to pass the referendum on Election Day.