CMP corridor debate turns to Maine Legislature's role in power projects at BDN forum

Oct. 14—Representatives on both sides of the fight over the $1 billion hydropower corridor debated Wednesday whether lawmakers or regulators should ultimately decide the fate of large-scale transmission projects in a virtual forum hosted by the Bangor Daily News.

Mainers will vote Nov. 2 on whether to ban transmission lines in the upper Kennebec River region and require supermajority votes of both legislative chambers on public lands leases retroactive to 2014, provisions aimed at stopping the construction of the 145-mile corridor that would bring Quebec hydropower to the regional grid.

The details of the regulatory process have been one of the less-explored policy questions during a campaign that has exceeded $60 million in spending, as proponents of the project led by Central Maine Power Co. tout the need for more power and economic benefits while detractors denounce the construction in western Maine and question the project's merits.

The BDN hosted a forum Wednesday featuring advocates on both sides of the debate. Benjamin Dudley and Adrienne Bennett, who work for two CMP-aligned groups, represented the no side. The yes side was represented by lawyer Adam Cote, who works for a group funded by fossil-fuel generators who stand to lose share in the regional power if the corridor is built, and Sandi Howard, director of the grassroots group No CMP Corridor.

If the referendum passed, a range of projects requiring leases on public lands would be subjected to a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the Maine Legislature. Under current law, the Bureau of Public Lands can generally approve leases without involving lawmakers. The law would clearly apply to the CMP corridor, and would also apply to other pipelines, telecommunications facilities and railroad tracks, among other projects, in the future.

Dudley said the proposal would "usurp the authority" of the Maine Public Utilities Commission and the Department of Environmental Protection, saying lawmakers could trade votes or get campaign contributions related to projects before them with potentially no right of appeal for affected companies if the referendum passes.

"This is dangerous and it's going to be pretty difficult for us to achieve our clean energy goals if these are the rules," he said.

In recent weeks, CMP allies identified two other projects with leases on public lands that they say would be affected by the retroactive portions of the law. The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands confirmed those two projects, along with the corridor lease, were the only three leases for electric or telecommunications lines since 2014.

Anti-corridor advocates argued the other projects would have no trouble getting a two-thirds vote in the Legislature, with Cote noting other leases or easements have been easily approved in the past, including one in 2007 for a wind development in Franklin County.

"For good projects, if you will, there shouldn't be any problem getting legislative approval to do these," Cote said.