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After the most expensive referendum campaign in Maine history, voters rejected Central Maine Power Company’s clean energy corridor. The fight over the transmission line — and Maine’s green energy future — however, is far from over.
In fact, little has changed with Tuesday’s vote. CMP is marching ahead with construction work and project opponents are seeking ways to stop them. Sadly, some of this was expected as this dispute was long headed for court.
All of this is unfortunate because Maine, and New England and the world, desperately need a greener energy supply. Now.
There is a lot of bad blood between CMP and corridor opponents and that relationship is made worse by CMP’s refusal to acknowledge the message that Maine voters resoundingly sent on Tuesday. We don’t expect those who distrust the company and its affiliates to suddenly set aside their concerns. Nor do we expect CMP to suddenly do everything that corridor opponents — who were largely funded by fossil fuel companies — ask.
But, Maine has big decisions and a lot of work ahead of it to achieve climate change goals that have been set by Gov. Janet Mills and the Legislature. Continuing to trade misleading arguments and ignoring public sentiment voiced from the ballot box won’t help get this work done.
We were struck by a quote from corridor opponent Tom Saviello, a leader in the Yes on 1 efforts.
“At the end of the day, we did our job, and we made a difference at a time when the state of Maine needs to decide what it’s going to be when it grows up,” said Saviello, a current Wilton selectboard member and former state legislator.
We see some irony here, because we think growth in Maine requires action on the need to increasingly de-carbonize our energy mix. Is Maine going to be a place where local objections and incumbent, well-financed interests can consistently sink projects? That doesn’t sound like growing up to us. Ignoring the will of the voters isn’t exactly a grown-up move either.
This idea about growing up is important, because as Maine thinks about growth and sustainability, we collectively need to decide if we’re a place where people do what they can get away with, or what they should do because it’s right for the state. We also need to make difficult choices about siting projects and infrastructure that may be unpopular but necessary in the long run.
Days after the vote, CMP and its affiliates are pushing ahead with corridor construction while challenging the legality of the law passed by voters this week. There’s little question that they can do this — the new law hasn’t even gone into effect yet. The question of whether they should barrell ahead with construction right now is another thing entirely.
There has been more than enough hyperbole and misleading information thrown around in this corridor debate — from both sides.
We don’t want to add to that frustrating tangle of exaggeration. We don’t think it’s a stretch to say, however, that what CMP and its allies are doing now is an insult to Maine voters. And it is an insult that could have long-term consequences.
Challenging the law in court is expected given the level of investment and potential environmental benefits on the line. But while those challenges play out, CMP and NECEC Transmission, its affiliate building the corridor, should honor the will of Maine voters and at least pause construction.
They may win in court, but until then, they’re basically telling the public: We don’t care what you think. That’s a bad place to be, especially for a utility beset by poor customer satisfaction, pressure from regulators, and a push for voters to sign off on a statewide public utility takeover.
We opposed Question 1. We think it was an overreach, and that this new law has wider implications for development in the state than its supporters have said. Plus, in our assessment, the corridor project itself is an important part of diversifying Maine’s clean energy mix with hydropower from Canada. By passing Question 1, however, Mainers essentially rejected those arguments.
We respect that. CMP and its affiliates can show they respect Maine people by pausing construction, even as things play out in court.