Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled on Thursday that a referendum attempting to prevent Central Maine Power (CMP) from building an electricity corridor through Maine’s North Woods violates the state constitution, delivering a blow to the coalition of environmental and community groups that have been campaigning for the corridor’s defeat.
The ruling states that the referendum, which attempted to overturn a Public Utilities Commission decision approving the corridor, “fails to meet the constitutional requirements for inclusion on the ballot because it exceeds the scope of the legislative powers conferred by article IV, part 3, section 18 of the Maine Constitution.”
Sandi Howard of No CMP Corridor, the organization that gathered more than 66,000 signatures to place the matter on the ballot, says that they will continue to work to stop the electricity project.
“It’s a very sad day when Maine’s highest court sides with foreign corporations over the people of Maine,” said Howard. “We are weighing all our options (legal, political and legislative) on how to best proceed, but I promise you, this fight is far from over. No CMP Corridor, and our army of volunteers, will not rest until we stop this for-profit project once and for all.”
‘A wake up call’ on corporate power
Advocates for publicly-owned power have also weighed in, noting that the court decision may bolster support for a proposal to replace Maine’s investor-owned energy grid with a not-for-profit, consumer-owned utility (COU). COU legislation was introduced in the Maine Legislature last year by the Energy Committee House chair Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham).
“This decision is a wake-up call for the people of Maine. We are not in charge of our energy future, foreign corporations are,” said Rep. Nicole Grohoski (D-Ellsworth). “There is only one clear way to end their stranglehold on us: remove CMP and replace it with a utility that is owned by and for its customers.”
COU proponents say it would empower Mainers to make critical decisions about the state’s power grid and natural resources for themselves, rather than relying on private, profit-driven enterprises like CMP, a subsidiary of Spanish mega-corporation Iberdrola.
Last month, the legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee passed a bill that would create a task force to research replacing the investor-owned energy grid with the consumer-owned model.
According to Berry’s proposal, the COU would be run by a bipartisan administrative board with members appointed by the governor and approved by the legislature, similar to the quasi-governmental boards appointed to administer the Maine Turnpike Authority, Maine Housing Authority and Efficiency Maine.
Berry encouraged Mainers frustrated by the court’s decision to channel their energy into support for the COU proposal.
“We may not be able to stop this corridor, but we can stop future projects that are not in the best interests of consumers,” Berry said. “We invite anyone concerned about future transmission lines to join the effort to transition to a consumer-owned utility.”
CMP and corridor partner HydroQuebec have already spent in excess of $17 million to influence the outcome of the now likely-voided referendum, blanketing the state with pro-corridor TV and print advertising.