Governor Janet Mills speaks at a news conference at General Insulation in Brewer on Nov. 4, 2021, highlighting a new weatherization program. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

ORONO, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills reiterated support for the embattled Central Maine Power Co. corridor on Wednesday as she announced a new $25 million for local infrastructure and clean-energy projects. 

One of the corridor’s major supporters, Mills had asked CMP to halt its work on the corridor after Maine voters overwhelmingly approved a Nov. 2 referendum aimed at blocking the project. Her administration suspended a key permit for the project last week, citing the vote. The ballot question’s constitutionality is now being debated in court as the project hangs in the balance.

In response to a reporter’s question, Mills said the “whole reason” for the project was to support regional clean energy goals, a reference to the project’s estimated 1,200 megawatts it was expected to bring from Quebec to the regional grid. She reiterated that she believed hydropower is a clean source of power, something critics of the project have questioned.

The Democratic governor’s comments at the University of Maine in Orono came on the one-year anniversary of the release of the “Maine Won’t Wait” plan for how the state can meet its climate goals, including of having 80 percent of its energy come from renewables by 2030 and all of it by 2050 — one of the country’s tightest standards.

The new initiatives announced by Mills on Wednesday will set aside $20 million in American Rescue Plan Act money for cities, towns and other local governments to protect key infrastructure from extreme weather and $4.75 million more to provide funding for local governments to reduce emissions and increase renewable energy resources approved this session by the Legislature. Applications will open at different times next year.

“We will be the generation that protects this precious place we call home so that the future generations may live in a Maine that is as beautiful and wonderful as it is today,” Mills said.

Municipal leaders said new money would have a direct effect on their communities. Cheryl Robertson, an Orono town councilor, pointed to improvements at the town’s wastewater treatment facility, where overflows have been occurring with increasing frequency. 

Easton Town Manager James Gardner, the president of the Maine Municipal Association, said increasing climate events will burden residents as heavy rains wash out roads, requiring more repairs, and increased erosion on beaches lowers property values of coastal homes.

“The issue of climate change is too large for any of us to tackle on their own,” he said.

The Maine Climate Council’s plan released last year mentions hydropower as a way to diversify the state’s energy portfolio but set the corridor project itself aside, focusing on meeting its goals through transportation and housing changes.

While Mills voted to uphold the corridor, she asked CMP and its affiliates last month to halt construction that initially continued past Election Day. They acceded to that demand the same day, which was just a few days before the Maine Department of Environmental Protection suspended their permit. Officials with CMP and its affiliates then sent Mills a critical letter saying it would stop payments associated with the project.

“And, by the way, we are not quitting on NECEC,” the letter concluded, using an acronym for the formal name of the corridor.