Mass. in middle of Maine power fight
Maine lawmakers tell Hydro-Quebec to stop meddling in ballot campaign
A group of 25 current and former Maine state lawmakers sent a letter to Hydro-Quebec on Wednesday urging the provincial utility to stop meddling in a state election battle spawned by Massachusetts’ thirst for hydro-electricity from Canada.
Massachusetts utilities, with the backing of the Baker administration, signed a nearly $1 billion contract to purchase electricity from Hydro-Quebec and have it delivered over a 145-mile transmission line running from the Quebec border through western Maine to Lewiston, where it would feed into the regional power grid.
The power line made its way through most regulatory channels in Maine, but is now facing a ballot question seeking to prevent it from being built. Hydro-Quebec and Central Maine Power, the company building the power line, are both financing multi-million-dollar campaigns against the ballot question
The current and former lawmakers say they object to a company owned by the province of Quebec trying to sway voters in Maine. They note that Canada in 2018 amended its own election laws to prohibit foreign entities from spending money to influence elections there.
Tom Saviello, a former state senator who signed the letter, said Hydro-Quebec is taking advantage of a loophole in Maine law. “In the state of Maine, we don’t allow foreign companies to participate in elections of individuals. So why should they be allowed to participate in a referendum campaign. They should mind their own fricking business,” he said.
Serge Abergel, the director of external relations at Hydro-Quebec, said the company never asked for the referendum in Maine but now that it’s going forward he said the utility wants to make sure voters have all the information they need to make informed decisions.
“We are trying to get clean energy into New England,” he said, noting that companies that own gas-fired power plants in Maine are running ads in favor of the question.
In the letter sent to the premier of Quebec and the president and CEO of Hydro-Quebec, the current and former lawmakers accused the utility of dodging questions about whether the hydro-electricity sales to Massachusetts would actually result in lower overall emissions or whether the power is merely being shifted from one purchaser to another.The current and former lawmakers also accused Hydro-Quebec of running misleading ads suggesting the hydro-electricity will displace “belching smokestacks unlike any that exist in the northeastern United States, let alone New England, suggesting that the Central Maine Power corridor will terminate such not-actually-in-New-England sources of air pollution.”
The letter also noted that Hydro-Quebec was fined $100,000, the second largest such fine in state history, for failing to register with the Maine Ethics Commission before launching its campaign. Hydro-Quebec has already spent $6.5 million on its campaign and the letter said the utility is on track to spend $10 million.