By Rep. Nicole Grohoski
The so-called CMP Corridor has been hotly debated across the state since the idea was first made public — from kitchen tables, to libraries, to the Legislature and now the courts. Last week, in a twist of events in the long battle surrounding this project, the Maine Supreme Court invalidated the citizen-initiated ballot question that was intended to allow the people of Maine to voice their views. The short of it? The Maine Constitution’s provision for direct democracy cannot be used to reverse a Public Utilities Commission (PUC) decision, which is an administrative action, not a legislative one.
Supporters of the project jumped for joy; opponents felt despair. Among the hardest hit were the hundreds of volunteers who gathered signatures through the cold winter months — including me and my family — and the nearly 70,000 voters who signed the petition to put the project on the ballot for the people to decide. Maine people have never before grappled with an infrastructure project of this scale that was not intended to provide a public good to our state, so it seemed reasonable to have a chance to weigh in en masse.
Yes, there were public hearings at different points in the process, but how many Mainers could take days off and travel for hours at their own expense to participate?
Despite the court ruling, you still have a voice. The Legislature can do what the people at the ballot box cannot. Last year, a majority voted to assess the global climate change impacts of this project, but we did not have the two-thirds support required to enact it as emergency legislation. We also passed bills to improve the permitting process by limiting for-profit use of eminent domain and allowing local input for projects of this scale. However, we did not have enough votes to override the Governor’s veto of these two bills.
As a member of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee and with a degree in environmental science, I have made my best effort to fully understand the information about the CMP Corridor project and I voted in support of these bills. I have concluded that this project has larger environmental consequences — cutting 53 miles of transmission corridor through undeveloped forests in our North Woods, harming brook trout, deer and other wildlife habitat — than it has economic value to Maine. Worse yet is the environmental and cultural havoc Quebec’s mega-dams have wreaked upon their remote lands and the indigenous Cree people. Furthermore, this project threatens our rapidly growing clean energy economy, including solar and biomass, by flooding the grid with power generated far from Maine. The phrase “penny wise and pound foolish” comes to mind.
I will continue to speak up for the people of Maine and our clean energy future. Make no mistake, the CMP Corridor project has a single goal: to make a profit for the shareholders of CMP’s parent company — the Spanish utility Iberdrola — and the Provincial Government of Quebec, which owns Hydro Quebec. These corporate interests are not motivated to benefit the people, lands and waters of Maine any more than needed to push this project through. If they cared about climate change, they would have supported the study proposed by the legislature to determine this project’s global climate impact. Instead, CMP’s high-paid lobbyists fought that study and numerous other clean energy bills in the halls of the State House.
Whenever the Legislature reconvenes, this year or next, I aim to be there to advocate for Mainers to have a greater say in our energy future. The state needs an energy plan, so that we know where and when we need large transmission projects rather than approaching each proposal willy nilly. We should own and operate our electric utilities, so that we can make the decisions and benefit from better customer service and more affordable, reliable and clean power, like over 100 communities in Maine already do. We must act on opportunities for local jobs and innovative industries; for example, last year I co-sponsored our landmark solar law and approved UMaine’s Aqua Ventus floating offshore wind demonstration project. Mainers should also be given the voice they deserve on the CMP Corridor project, if not at the ballot box, then via their elected officials.
Democratic Rep. Nicole Grohoski is serving her first term in the Maine House of Representatives and seeks re-election to continue serving the people of Ellsworth and Trenton. A member of the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology, she has been a vocal advocate for stopping the CMP Corridor and supporting local, clean energy jobs.