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New England Clean Energy Connect companies on pace to set spending record for Maine ballot initiative

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Peter Key's picture
Freelance Writer, Editor, Consultant Self-employed

I've been a business journalist since 1985 when I received an MBA from Penn State. I covered energy, technology, and venture capital for The Philadelphia Business Journal from 1998 through 2013....

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  • Apr 16, 2020
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In 1966, Paul Revere and the Raiders had a hit with a song whose refrain began with the line, “Don’t it seem like kicks just keep getting harder to find.”

In a modern remake of the song with an electric power industry slant, that line could be changed to, “Transmission projects just keep getting harder to build.”

The big reason is that unlike me, most people don’t find power lines aesthetically appealing, especially in scenic areas, and often do everything they can to keep transmission projects in their necks of the woods from reaching fruition.

That’s certainly true of many Mainers, whose opposition to the New England Clean Energy Connect Project has the two companies behind it on track to spend a record amount of money on a Granite State ballot initiative.

According to recent filings with the Maine Ethics Commission, Avangrid subsidiary Central Maine Power and Hydro-Québec have spent nearly $9.6 million on their campaign to defeat a ballot initiative opposing the project.

Nearly $7.5 million of that has come from Central Maine Power in the form of contributions to Clean Energy Matters, a political action committee formed to defeat the initiative, according to Clean Energy Matters' filing. Hydro-Québec has spent nearly $2.1 million, according to its filing.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine, which opposes the project, said that if CMP and Hydro-Québec keep spending money to fight the ballot initiative at their current rate, they’ll shell out more than $20 million. That would be more than double the largest amount spent to date on a ballot initiative, which was $9 million to support an initiative to allow a casino to be built in York County.

NECEC, which would bring hydropower generated by Hydro-Québec into the New England grid for Massachusetts customers, would include a new high voltage direct current transmission line running 147 miles through western Maine; 50 miles of existing alternating current lines; and two substations, one to convert direct current to alternating current.

The new HDVC line is the source of much of the opposition to the project as a new corridor would have to be constructed for the 53 miles of it that runs through forest that is being logged. The other 94 miles of it would be situated in an existing CMP transmission corridor.

A poll of Maine residents conducted a year ago found that 65 percent of respondents opposed the project, while only 15 percent supported it, which is one reason CMP and Hydro-Québec are fighting to keep the initiative on the project off the November ballot. Their effort took another hit on April 13 when a Maine Superior Court judge ruled that project opponents have collected enough valid signatures to get the initiative on the ballot.

Despite the opposition to the project, Avangrid and CMP are proceeding as if it's likely to get built.

Avangrid in February created a subsidiary called NECEC Transmission to build and run the project and it recently awarded $300 million in contracts.

The same month, CMP named its former CEO David Flanagan its executive chairman. During Flanagan’s stint running the company from 1994 to 2000, CMP said, its public favorability rose from 40 percent to more than 90 percent.

CMP is hoping for a repeat performance. The company had the lowest score of all the utilities included in the J.D. Power 2019 Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study.

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