Oct. 5—The two sides in a high-stakes battle over a power line corridor through part of Maine's upper Kennebec River Valley have spent about $60 million trying to sway Maine voters on a ballot question that could kill the project if approved in November.
Campaign spending reports filed Tuesday reveal political committees bankrolled by some of the world's largest energy corporations continue to pour millions of dollars into advertising, adding to what is easily the most expensive referendum in the state's history.
The $1 billion, 145-mile transmission corridor is being built by a partnership between Hydro-Quebec and Central Maine Power in an effort to deliver energy generated by hydroelectric dams in Canada to the New England grid. Both companies or their corporate parents also have poured money into the political campaign.
Hydro-Quebec's political action committee, Hydro-Quebec Maine Partnership, has directly spent $8 million on its messaging in Maine in 2021, and since forming in 2019 it has spent $14.7 million, according to finance reports.
But that sum remains only a sliver of the record-breaking amount of political spending by those supporting the expansion and those trying to block it through a statewide referendum next month. Third-quarter campaign finance reports were due to be filed with the Maine Ethics Commission by midnight Tuesday.
Backers of the project have so far vastly outraised and outspent opponents.
The biggest spender remains Clean Energy Matters, a PAC largely bankrolled by New England Clean Energy Connect LLC, the partnership company formed between CMP and Hydro-Quebec to construct the transmission corridor. Reports filed Tuesday showed Clean Energy Matters has spent $19.5 million in 2021 in its effort to defeat the ballot question and has spent $34.4 million since forming in 2019.
The group's latest report shows it had another $1.2 million in cash on hand at the close of the reporting period on Sept. 30. The report also shows its largest donor is the partnership company New England Clean Energy Connect LLC, which has given $19.4 million to the PAC.
The bulk of the spending from both sides of the issue has paid for radio, television and online advertising. The money also has paid for campaign consultants and coordinators who have brought the opposing campaign messages to events across Maine, including agricultural fairs. Other expenses include direct mail and advertising design costs.
Voters will be asked in November whether they want to ban the transmission project and require all future power line expansions using public lands to first be approved by a supermajority of the Maine Legislature.
The question on the ballot will read: "Do you want to ban the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region and to require the Legislature to approve all other such projects anywhere in Maine, both retroactively to 2020, and to require the Legislature, retroactively to 2014, to approve by a two-thirds vote such projects using public land?"
Backers of the project claim it will generate 1,600 jobs, boost the Maine economy and help meet regional climate goals by displacing fossil fuel-based electricity generation with hydropower. But opponents have argued the environmental damage from the expansion to a stretch of Maine forestlands outweighs any gains for the state, and the financial advantages of the project will mostly benefit foreign governments or foreign-owned corporations.
Hydro-Quebec's large spending on the campaign prompted bipartisan legislation this year that would have banned foreign governments from spending on political campaigns in Maine. Hydro-Quebec is a "crown" corporation owned solely by the government of the Province of Quebec.
The bill, which passed 23-11 in the state Senate and 87-54 in the Maine House, was vetoed by Gov. Janet Mills, who has been a supporter of the power line project. Proponents of the bill are now gathering voter signatures to put the measure before voters in another ballot question, possibly as early as 2022.
Opponents of the project include the political action committee Mainers for Local Power, which reported another $7 million in contributions on Tuesday and has spent $9.98 million so far in 2021 and more than $12.7 million since forming in 2019.
Mainers for Local Power is being bankrolled partly by NextEra Energy Resources LLC, a Florida-based power giant that operates in 21 states and is the nation's largest wind and solar power generator. NextEra also owns nuclear and natural gas generation facilities and operates Wyman Station in Yarmouth, a 610-megawatt, oil-fired generation facility.
Other corporate energy opponents to the corridor include Calpine Corp. and Vistra, which combined have given $1.3 million to Mainers for Local Power since the PAC's formation in 2019. Both companies are based in Texas and generate electricity using a variety of sources, including natural gas and nuclear.
The PAC's third-quarter report filed Tuesday afternoon showed NextEra remains the primary source of funding with the power company donating $7 million since July 1.
All three companies stand to lose a share of the electricity market in New England should the transmission corridor move forward and allow the delivery of up to 1,200 megawatts of electricity to the regional power grid.
Other actors in the mix include Mainers for Fair Laws, a spinoff ballot question committee, which reported just over $400,000 of in-kind contributions from the Clean Energy Matters PAC, which formed in August to also oppose the ballot measure. Clean Energy Matters paid $400,000 on advertising and website development for the committee, which was due to file its first report on donations and expenditures Tuesday.
No CMP Corridor, another PAC formed in opposition to the power line project, also filed its quarterly campaign finance report Tuesday showing it had received $150,000 in donations from from Mainers for Local Power. That report also shows No CMP Corridor then paid $140,000 to the nonprofit Say NO to NECEC.
Say NO to NECEC has been the subject of an ongoing Ethics Commission investigation, which is attempting to determine if the nonprofit should have to register under state law as a ballot question committee or a PAC, requiring it to report its contributors and expenses. In all, No CMP Corridor has spent over $415,000 in its efforts with $310,000 of that being donated by the Mainers for Local Power — the PAC funded by the Florida and Texas energy companies.