We are told that there are always two sides to every story, but most of us know that two is really just the minimum.

A story can have three sides, or four or five. But if the story’s ending is a referendum question, there are only two choices: Yes or no.

And that’s going to be a problem for some Maine voters this year when they are asked to decide Question 1, a referendum aimed to kill a $1 billion project that would bring hydroelectric power from Canada to the New England power grid via a 145-mile transmission line, built by the corporate parent of Central Maine Power.

For anyone who hasn’t made up their mind yet, deciding this one is like flipping an eight-sided coin. It’s a multifactorial equation filled with unknowns, and we have to find our way through it without the usual guideposts and shortcuts we are used to.

This is not just a matter of balancing competing interests, like the environment vs. the economy. In this one there are competing interests within the interests – debates between environmentalists, debates between sportsmen and debates between business groups. There are Democrats, Republicans and independents on both sides.

Meanwhile, millions of dollars are being pumped into the state to push half truths and misinformation through advertising in the hope of winning a big victory at the polls.

What do people do when a problem is too complicated? We break it into manageable chunks.

I expect that’s why so many people I talk to about Question 1 seem to have settled on one factor that decides it for them and lets them tune out the complexity.

The one I hear most often is “I don’t trust CMP,” and it’s hard to say why they should.

CMP is the name you curse when your lights go out. The corporate-owned transmission and delivery utility serves 2.2 million Maine homes and businesses, and sends each of them a bill each month, sometimes for the wrong amount. CMP is owned by the Spanish Energy Giant Iberdrola, which pays dividends to stock holders while customers in Maine rate the utility’s service as some of the worst in the country.

But look who’s on the other side. The money behind the “Yes” campaign comes from the owners of fossil fuel-burning energy generation plants. These out-of state polluters want us to kill the project, and not because they are concerned about brook trout habitat. These companies don’t want cheap Canadian hydropower to come over the border because it will compete with them in Maine’s deregulated energy market.

That’s why you see NextERA, the owner of Wyman Station in Yarmouth, the state’s only oil-burning power plant, lined up with the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which can’t make either one feel good about themselves.

These alliances are complicated because energy policy is complicated and we get to Question 1 by a complicated road.

Everybody knows that the referendum is aimed at killing the CMP corridor project, but you won’t find any of those words in the law that would be passed if the referendum succeeds. That’s because a more straightforward referendum was found to be unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court last year, forcing the corridor’s opponents to look for a work-around.

Question 1 would do three things: Require the Legislature’s approval for all “high-impact electrical transmission lines” in the state; ban such projects in the Upper Kennebec region, retroactive to Sept. 16, 2020; and require two-thirds support in the Legislature for all transmission lines that cross public lands, retroactive to Sept. 16, 2014.

It’s easy to see that passing Question 1 would be fatal for this project even if it’s not specifically mentioned, but there is a live debate over what other projects could be affected by this broad language if it were to become law. That is, if the language survives a threatened lawsuit by the corridor developers – assuming they win their appeal of a state Superior Court ruling that invalidates their lease to a piece of public land.

Our editorial board has discussed this issue extensively and we plan to publish an endorsement later this month. In the meantime, I plan to tune in to a virtual roundtable with the reporters who have covered this issue closely over the last three years, which will be moderated by Lewiston Sun Journal Editor Judy Meyer. (6:30 p.m. Monday Oct. 18, register at pressherald.com/Question1).

I’m not a lawyer, or an engineer, or an economist or a scientist.

But on Election Day, I’m a voter, and figuring out Question 1 means I’ll have to be a little bit of all of the above.


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