Millions Pour Into Groups Fighting, Supporting Power Line

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Money is pouring into the campaign battle over a $1 billion hydropower transmission project in western Maine, and project supporters outspent opponents more than 2 to 1 in the latest reporting period.

Clean Energy Matters, which is backing the project, collected more than $5.8 million in the first quarter of the year, while opposition group Mainers for Local Power received more than $1.3 million, according to quarterly reports filed Monday with the state ethics commission.

Clean Energy Matters spent nearly $4.5 million and Mainers for Local Power spent more than $2 million in the period, the reports indicated.

A ballot question committee backed by Hydro-Quebec, which would supply the electricity for the project, spent another $800,000 but much of it repaid previous debts for services.

The goal of the New England Clean Energy Connect is to bring 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to the New England grid. Much of the project calls for widening existing corridors, but a new swath would be cut through 53 miles (85 kilometers) of remote woods in western Maine.

Critics who contend the project would permanently change the character of the woods collected enough signatures for a referendum on the project.

The referendum would require legislative approval for any electrical power line project that exceeds 50 miles (80 kilometers) and would impose a prohibition on such a project in the Upper Kennebec Valley. It also would be retroactive to September 2014.

The secretary of state announced Tuesday that the state is now accepting public comment on the wording of the ballot question.

A previous referendum drive aimed at overturning the project was deemed invalid by the state supreme court. The new referendum could be open to legal challenges, as well.