AUGUSTA, Maine — Opponents of Central Maine Power’s proposed corridor launched a second referendum bid on Wednesday intended to pressure lawmakers to overturn the $1 billion project, but it could face issues similar to an initial bid struck from the 2020 ballot.
The corridor through western Maine that would take hydropower from Quebec to the regional grid is federal permits and local approvals away from construction after a prior referendum scheduled for November was deemed unconstitutional by Maine’s high court last month.
Defiant opponents of the project who were behind that referendum bid and the one filed Wednesday are still pursuing challenges that could theoretically upend or slow the project, including lawsuits holding that the Legislature had to approve a key state land lease and challenging a permit from the state’s environmental protection agency.
Their latest initiative is different from the last one, which tried to rescind a permit from utility regulators. The new one would require the Maine Legislature to take a two-thirds vote to approve any transmission lines in the future and require another two-thirds vote to approve the use of public lands for such projects.
That latter provision would be retroactive to projects passed in the last six years, which would allow the question to affect the corridor. It could run into similar problems as the last challenge in the high court, where justices checked the ability of lawmakers and Maine citizens to overturn executive branch decisions on permitting. The Legislature has also turned back bills that would have created higher approval thresholds for the corridor before.
Former state Sen. Tom Saviello, a leader of the opposition group Say No to NECEC, said Wednesday that the group expects to begin circulating petitions the week before the November election. The measure could be on the ballot in 2021.
“I don’t give up,” he said. “We all know this is a lousy deal for Maine and I am not quitting until the people of Maine are allowed to have a voice.”
Jon Breed, the executive director of the CMP-backed political committee, Clean Energy Matters, said his group was reviewing the language but called the measure a “desperate attempt to use Maine’s referendum system to derail a project which has been approved by Maine’s executive branch, and affirmed by Maine’s judicial branch.”
CMP and aligned groups spent more than $17 million to oppose the first referendum through August, according to recent Maine Ethics Commission filings. Two companies operating natural gas generators funded one opposition group. It was the most expensive referendum in Maine history without making the ballot.