The company selected by Massachusetts to build a power line delivering large amounts of hydro-electricity from Quebec into the regional power grid at Lewiston, Maine, is asking a judge to block a voter referendum on the project.
Avangrid, the corporate parent of Central Maine Power, which has won a series of approvals for the project from state regulators, said in a court filing that holding a referendum on a decision by the state’s Public Utilities Commission would violate the state constitution.
Avangrid said initiative petitions are designed to give citizens legislative power, but this referendum would not pass or overturn any laws. Instead, the petition would reverse a 19-month regulatory review that concluded the benefits of the project outweighed the detriments.
Tony Buxton, legal counsel for a private industry group backing the power line, said a referendum would give the state a black eye. “Why don’t we change the sign in Kittery from ‘Welcome Home’ to ‘Maine: Where permits mean nothing and referenda are every Tuesday.’ You can’t run a society by referendum,” he said in a statement.
Backers of the referendum campaign said a public vote is the ultimate expression of democracy, and should not be blocked.
The referendum battle is yet another sign of how many of the initiatives being pursued by Massachusetts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are beyond the state’s control. An offshore wind farm that was scheduled to begin construction last year and start producing electricity in 2022 is now awaiting federal approvals that, if they happen at all, will not come until the end of this year.
Gov. Charlie Baker said recently that COVID-19 put his regional climate initiative along with a host of legislative initiatives on the back burner. The climate initiative would put a price on the carbon contained in automobile fuels and distribute the proceeds to participating states to invest in emission-reducing projects. The states participating in deliberations on the climate initiative have said next to nothing about it during the COVID-19 crisis.
And now the hydro-electricity project is coming down to a do-or-die referendum in Maine. The project would bring hydro-electricity produced by Hydro-Quebec down into Maine via a 145-mile-long power line. The cost of the project is being borne by Massachusetts electric ratepayers, who have agreed to purchase the electricity that would flow over the line for 5.9 cents a kilowatt hour for the next 20 years.
The Avangrid-Hydro-Quebec project won the Massachusetts procurement only after the initial winner, Eversource Energy, failed to secure a key permits for a power line running from Canada down into New Hampshire.
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