In this Tuesday, May 28, 2019 photo a homemade sign is posted on a telephone pole in protest of Central Maine Power's controversial hydropower transmission corridor in Jackman, Maine. The power corridor would extend 53 miles from the Canadian border into Maine's north woods on land owned by CMP. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

A citizen’s initiative to stop Central Maine Power’s proposed $1 billion transmission corridor took its first formal step toward its goal of having a referendum question on the November 2020 ballot.

Opponents to the corridor filed an application for the referendum with Maine’s secretary of state late Friday afternoon. Thomas Saviello, a former state senator from Wilton, filed the application along with the required five other voter signatures.

The corridor, known as the New England Clean Energy Connect, would pipe electricity from the Canadian border through western Maine for use by Massachusetts to meet that state’s clean energy goals.

Opponents worry the corridor won’t adequately benefit Mainers and might damage the environment. They said in July that they would start a petition drive to derail it.

Saviello and Sandra Howard, director of the grassroots opposition group Say NO To NECEC, issued a joint statement saying they will make a more detailed announcement about their plans on the citizen’s initiative in the coming days.

“In town after town, Mainers have voted overwhelmingly against the project. In the Legislature, multiple bills were passed that would have stopped the corridor, but the governor vetoed them,” they said. “The next logical step is to put this issue to the people of Maine to decide, and that’s what we’re doing now.”

Once the secretary of state approves the final language on the initiative, Howard and others will have to gather 63,067 signatures, which equals 10 percent of the votes cast for governor in 2018.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission granted a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the project on April 11.

The initiative, An Act to Reject the New England Clean Energy Connect Transmission Project, asks that the commission amend its approval and find that the project is not in the public interest. It asks the commission to amend its order to deny the certificate. The commission would have to do so within 30 days of the effective date of the referendum, if it passes.

The application will now go through the Legislature’s Revisor of Statutes Office before it goes back to the secretary of state, which would approve posting it.

The petition drive is expected to start in September.

CMP spokesperson Catharine Hartnett said in an email that while CMP respects the right of Maine residents to initiate legislation by citizen petition, the application is not in the best interest of Maine.

“Maine’s current law to permit electric transmission projects such as NECEC protects the public interest through a rigorous, careful, balanced assessment by dedicated and experienced public agencies and public servants,” she said. “The Maine [Public Utilities Commission] spent nearly two years assessing arguments and evidence, and concluded that the proposed NECEC project is in the public interest and will have substantial benefits for Maine, including lower electric rates for Mainers, substantially reduced greenhouse gas emissions in the region in addition to expanding the Maine economy and creating hundreds of construction jobs.”

CMP said it is on schedule to go into commercial operation Dec. 13, 2022. The Land Use Planning Commission, one of several other regulators that needs to approve the project, may make its ruling as early as Sept. 11.