Supporters of a planned 145-mile hydroelectric corridor through Maine, including the state’s largest electricity supplier, have spent nearly $17 million since last fall to back the project, which is being challenged by a referendum.
Voters will be asked in November if they want to block the corridor project, which will carry energy generated by Hydro-Quebec in Canada to Lewiston, where it will enter the New England electric grid, destined for customers in Massachusetts.
Maine Gov. Janet Mills in February backed the plan after securing more than $250 million in incentives for the state, such as more electric vehicle charging stations, subsidies for purchasers of heat pumps and an extension of high-speed internet service to rural areas.
The $1 billion project cleared a major hurdle in May, when it received approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection. It now only needs to be approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a presidential permit to allow it to cross the border with Canada.
But opponents have managed to put a ballot question before voters in November asking if they want to block the plan. The referendum itself is likely to be the challenged in court if it’s passed at the ballot box.
New campaign finance reports filed this week show that Clean Energy Matters, the main political action committee opposing the referendum, has spent $10.5 million, mostly on television and online ads. The organization has raised $10.6 million through the end of June, mostly from Central Maine Power Co. ($7.5 million), which would build the corridor, and CMP’s parent company Avingrid, which contributed $3.1 million.
Another committee, the Hydro-Quebec Maine Partnership, raised $6.3 million through the end of June, and spent $6.2 million. That group is backed by HQ Energy Services, a subsidiary of Hyrdo-Quebec, which is owned by the Canadian province of Quebec.
The best-funded supporter of the referendum is Mainers for Local Power, which is supported solely by Calpine Corp. and Vistra Energy, two large electricity generators. The PAC has raised $737,000 and spent $704,000, mostly on campaign consultants, according to its campaign spending report.
Pete Didisheim, director of advocacy for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, called the spending by the referendum’s opponents “obscene.”
“Maine people have never seen this much corporate, out-of-state money spent on a campaign aimed at defeating a citizen-initiated ballot measure,” Didishem said. “CMP and Hydro-Quebec apparently have so much money to throw around that they can spend more per day on this campaign than the average Maine household makes in a year.”
But Jon Breed, who heads up Clean Energy Matters, criticized referendum supporters for taking money from Calpine and Vistra, which use fossil fuels to generate much of the energy they produce. He also said that his PAC has been “open and transparent” about where its financial support comes from.