A group of 25 current and former Maine lawmakers wrote a letter Wednesday to Quebec’s premier and Hydro-Quebec’s CEO asking that they stop trying to influence the outcome of a referendum this November on Central Maine Power’s proposed $1 billion hydropower corridor.
The letter is the most recent volley in the high stakes debate over the $1 billion project that would bring Canadian hydropower to the regional grid through western Maine. So far, Clean Energy Matters, a CMP-linked group, and Hydro-Quebec have spent close to $14.7 million to promote the corridor, according to the Maine Ethics Commission.
The project is a joint effort between Hydro-Quebec, a government-owned public utility and CMP. In late June, a Maine judge ruled that a ballot question opposing the utility’s corridor proposal could go to voters in November despite a legal challenge. Avangrid, CMP’s parent and a U.S. subsidiary of the Spanish utility giant Iberdrola, in early July asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to overrule that decision.
The lawmakers said they are concerned that Hydro-Quebec is exploiting a loophole in Maine ethics laws that they sought to close when the pandemic hit and the Maine Legislature adjourned abruptly in March. A bill sponsored by Rep. Kent Ackley, I-Monmouth, would prohibit contributions, expenditures and participation by foreign nationals to influence referendum questions.
The letter contends that Hydro-Quebec provides billions of dollars annually to the province of Quebec, which in turn means the residents of Quebec have a direct financial stake in the outcome of the CMP corridor referendum.
It also says advertising has been deceptive, including showing images of Baxter State Park and Acadia National Park to “intentionally exploit the emotional attachment that Mainers have for these locations and imply that the managers of these areas are in partnership with Hydro-Quebec or somehow support the CMP corridor, which is not accurate.”
“We respectfully request that Hydro-Quebec cease all further campaign activities in Maine and let the people of Maine vote without further meddling in our elections by Hydro-Quebec,” the letter says.
A Hydro-Quebec spokesperson did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Hydro-Quebec was fined $35,000 by the Maine Ethics Commission in January for admitting a late financial disclosure, the second-highest such fine in Maine history.
The he escalation of Hydro-Quebec’s campaign activities, including hiring a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm, prompted the lawmakers to write the letter, Ackley said in a statement.
Gov. Janet Mills on July 10 announced a $170 million deal with Hydro-Quebec to provide discounted electricity to the state through CMP’s transmission corridor, though opponents of the project said it would largely benefit industrial users.