A group that wants to block Central Maine Power Company’s proposed $1 billion transmission line through western Maine has called a news conference for Monday, hinting that it has collected enough signatures to force a statewide referendum on the project in November.

Sandi Howard and Tom Saviello, a former state senator from Wilton, announced in a post on Say NO to NECEC’s Facebook page Thursday that the group will hold a news conference at the State House at noon on Monday, the deadline for submitting signatures to get a question on the November ballot.

Though the group does not specifically say that it has enough signatures – it will need more than 63,000 – Howard and Saviello hint in the Facebook post that they’ve surpassed that mark.

Contacted late Thursday at his home, Saviello was asked if the group had gathered enough signatures on a petition to put a question on the ballot asking Mainers to reject the New England Clean Energy Connect transmission project.

“I’m going to tease you. I feel we are going to be in good shape. I’m very happy,” Saviello said.

Saviello said it would be premature of him to speculate on whether the group was successful, adding that signatures will still need to be certified by the secretary of state and that their authenticity will likely be closely scrutinized by CMP.

If the group falls short of the required minimum, the secretary of state has told Saviello that it can regroup and continue to collect signatures through October – one year after the petition drive officially started – to get on the ballot in 2021.

Saviello said there is a lot at stake for CMP and its investors, particularly if there is a threat that the project could be blocked or even rejected by Maine voters.

“I want the people of Maine to decide this question,” Saviello said.

CMP is seeking authority to build 145 miles of high-voltage transmission lines along a 150-foot-wide corridor that stretches from the Maine-Quebec border just north of Coburn Gore to a power station in Lewiston. The line would cross under the scenic Kennebec River Gorge and across the Appalachian Trail.

Roughly one-third of the corridor would involve new construction in woodland between the Canadian border and the Kennebec River. The rest of the project would use existing corridors that will be expanded. Hydro-Quebec, a province-owned utility, will supply power to the regional grid through the transmission line.

Supporters say the project will offer 1,200 megawatts of clean energy to the region. For critics, such as Saviello’s group, it represents a greedy money grab for foreign developers, helping Massachusetts meet its renewable energy goals.

On Facebook, Saviello and Howard thanked supporters for gathering signatures during a Maine winter, adding “You literally put your bodies between CMP and this awful corridor.”

“Now we want to invite you to a special announcement event on Monday, Feb. 3, in the Welcome Center at the State House in Augusta,” the post said. Howard and Saviello describe Monday’s event as “a celebration of your efforts to get this on the ballot.”

“If you are interested, make sure you wear or bring something that expresses your opposition to the corridor! Again our deepest thanks. You all have changed Maine’s direction for the better,” Howard and Saviello said.

Kristen Muszynski, spokeswoman for the Maine Secretary of State’s Office, said her office is aware of the group’s petition drive, which the state authorized in October.

Muszynski said that if the group is able to secure at least 63,067 valid signatures, the question will be placed on the Nov. 3 ballot. A signature submission at this date would be too late to get on the state’s March 3 Presidential Primary ballot.

Gov. Janet Mills has endorsed the CMP transmission line, signing onto a deal about a year ago that would give Maine $258 million in benefits in exchange for a permit that would allow the project to be built. The funds would be doled out over the next 40 years and be used to help lower electric bills, advance clean-energy efforts and fund other public and community benefits.

The transmission corridor has won approval from the Public Utilities Commission and the Land Use Planning Commission, but is still awaiting a decision from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. The utility company also needs approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

 

 


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