PORTLAND, Maine — Opponents of a $1 billion power corridor that would travel through wilderness in western Maine have collected roughly 100,000 signatures for a referendum drive to defeat it, officials said.
The petitions were being delivered Thursday to the secretary of state’s office in Augusta, which will review them. More than 63,000 of the signatures have to be certified for the measure to appear on the ballot.
The referendum would require legislative approval for any electrical power line project that exceeds 50 miles and would impose a prohibition on such a project in the Upper Kennebec Valley.
Much of the project calls for widening existing corridors, but a new swath would be cut through 53 miles of wilderness.
The New England Clean Energy Connect would provide a conduit for up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to reach the regional power grid, reducing greenhouse emissions and stabilizing energy costs in the region, supporters say. Critics say the benefits are overstated and that the project would destroy unspoiled wilderness.
The project would be fully funded by Massachusetts ratepayers and is aimed at meeting that state’s clean energy goals, but supporters say the entire region would benefit from the project.
It’s the second referendum drive aimed at stopping the project.
Opponents previously collected more than 63,000 signatures for a “People’s Veto” referendum that was deemed unconstitutional by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. The state Supreme Court ruled that a referendum can be used to nullify legislative actions but not state agency decisions.
The project was approved by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Land Use Planning Commission and Maine Public Utilities Commission, along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Construction this month was delayed while the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hears arguments by three conservation groups that want the Army Corps to conduct a more extensive environmental review.
David Sharp, The Associated Press