In this May 28, 2019, file photo, a sign in protest of Central Maine Power's controversial hydropower transmission corridor is stretched across a business sign in The Forks. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

Two national companies that operate natural gas plants in Maine are stepping into the fight over Central Maine Power’s power line proposal for western Maine. They’ve created a political action committee supporting a potential ballot question aimed at killing the CMP project.

The PAC is called Mainers for Local Power, and it will be funded by two Texas-based companies, Calpine and Vistra. Calpine owns a natural gas electricity generation plant in Westbrook, and Vistra owns one in Veazie.

“We’re concerned about the long-term viability of our operations in Maine,” said Jonathan Flumerfelt, a spokesman for Calpine.

Flumerfelt acknowledged that the injection of electricity from Hydro-Quebec’s dam system into this region via the CMP transmission line would suppress electricity prices enough to hurt the company’s bottom line.

He said the PAC’s goal will be to get out the message that the natural gas plants are significant contributors to Maine’s economy, starting with 22 full-time jobs Calpine’s Westbrook plant.

“They’re very professional, highly skilled jobs. Many of our employees are Maine Maritime graduates. I think between payroll and local property taxes we contribute about $5 million a year into the Westbrook local economy. We also contribute about $10 million per year to the local economy in spending on various goods and services and even more if we have a big maintenance year,” he said.

Vistra representatives could not immediately be reached for comment, but Flumerfelt said that company’s Veazie plant is similar in scope to the Calpine operation.

The new PAC’s entry comes as the CMP project’s supporters and opponents gear up for a potential statewide ballot fight, if opponents are able to gather enough signatures to get the question on the November 2020 ballot.

Last week, Hydro-Quebec formed a PAC to defend the project in Maine, and last month a group called Clean Energy Matters was formed by CMP’s parent company Avangrid.

“It’s been clear to us that the fossil fuel companies want to see the renewable energy transmission line fail because they will lose millions and millions of dollars. And now there’s proof,” Clean Energy Matters spokesperson Jon Breed said. “Their goal is to spread misinformation about the project and confuse Mainers, and we’re going to work to correct that record at every turn to make sure the people of Maine know the truth about the project and the benefits to our state.”

Project supporters, including Gov. Janet Mills, have criticized earlier advertising campaigns against the power line from a group called Stop the Corridor, which has never revealed its funding sources. Mills and others have contended that powerful — and polluting — fossil-fuel energy companies were behind that effort.

Flumerfelt said Calpine and Vistra intend to be transparent about their funding and interests. Sandra Howard, who leads a grassroots opposition group informally known as No CMP Corridor, said she’ll take any help she can get, even from large energy companies.

“We’ve been focusing so much with partnerships with NRCM, Patagonia corporate has put money in to help defeat the corridor, we’ve been working with Environment Maine. But it’s no secret that there are other utilities who oppose the corridor for their own reasons. Even though I may not have the same background, we’re all stronger together for a common goal, and we may not align on the next issue,” she said.

Howard’s group is trying to secure some 80,000 petition signatures by the end of the year, for the ballot item that would order state regulators to kill the power line project. The new PAC has yet to file financial disclosures that could indicate whether it will join that petition drive or focus on other campaign strategies.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.