AUGUSTA, Maine — The parent company for Central Maine Power Co. has poured nearly $3 million into a new political committee since September in an effort to quash a referendum aiming to replace the embattled utility with an elected board.
The fight over a consumer-owned utility will likely die down in the coming months because proponents may not have enough signatures for a referendum this year and look set to aim for the 2023 ballot. The heavy spending teases another pricey race over utility policy after voters rejected the CMP corridor last year after a record $90 million in campaign spending.
Supporters of replacing CMP and Versant Power with a quasi-public utility run by an elected board launched a referendum campaign in August after Gov. Janet Mills vetoed a bill this summer that would have sent a similar referendum to the voters. Backers need to submit more than 63,000 signatures by Jan. 31 to make the ballot this year.
The proposal has faced pushback from CMP and Versant, with CMP’s parent, Avangrid, funding a political committee called Mainers for Affordable Energy to fight it. The group, which has received just shy of $3 million and spent roughly $1.8 million through the end of December, is also backing a countervailing referendum that would require voters to approve billions in debt needed to fund a utility buyout.
The bulk of Mainers for Affordable Energy’s spending — a little more than $1 million — went toward digital advertising, according to a report filed with the Maine Ethics Commission on Tuesday ahead of a midnight deadline for state-level candidates and political groups.
The effort to establish a consumer-owned utility comes on the heels of the successful referendum campaign by CMP opponents to block its proposed $1 billion hydropower corridor in western Maine, although CMP is still challenging the referendum results in court.
But while opponents of the corridor project reaped in funds from energy companies that saw hydropower as a threat to their business here, proponents of the consumer-owned utility do not have the same financial backing in their attempt to take down CMP.
Our Power, the group pushing the referendum, had raised more than $125,000 through Sep. 30 and spent most of that total, according to campaign finance filings. Its end-of-year report to Maine’s ethics regulator was not yet available Tuesday morning.