Mainers have a tough choice Tuesday, Nov. 2, in the form of Question 1.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for the Lakes Region Weekly, lives in Windham.

Do voters allow Central Maine Power to erect a high-wattage electrical transmission line through 53 miles of Maine forest from The Forks to the Canadian border to tap into Hydro-Quebec’s network of hydropower electric dams?

This referendum, more than any in recent memory, isn’t an easy one for either side. It’s nuanced. It requires determining the lesser of two evils. It’s what one might call a conundrum.

Because the so-called New England Clean Energy Connect project has both positives and negatives concerning Maine’s environment and New England’s power needs, Maine voters have a big responsibility on Nov. 2 that will not only affect us, but the wider region as well.

Here’s the wording of Question 1: “Do you want to ban the construction of high-impact electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region and to require the Legislature to approve all other such projects anywhere in Maine, both retroactively to 2020, and to require the Legislature, retroactively to 2014, to approve by a two-thirds vote such projects using public land?”

Before urging you how to vote, I have major issues with the question itself.


First, the wording is confusing and demands mental calisthenics, and I bet many will vote “no” when they mean “yes.” Many will dispense with a careful reading of the question and vote “yes” thinking that will approve the project while others will vote “no” thinking that will halt it.

And because the wording is so poor, no one will know for sure the true wishes of Maine voters. That’s a problem and one I lay at the feet of the secretary of state, who approves the final wording of ballot questions.

Second, Maine’s referendum process is infamously overused and abused, and this is just another instance.

I recently traveled to the area where the corridor is being built  – yes, CMP is moving quickly with the project, having already spent about $300 million of the estimated $1 billion it plans to spend on the project, which is supposed to be complete by 2024. Crews have already done most of the land clearing, and line infrastructure is being stored on site waiting for the all-clear – and there were many corridor-opposing signs in residents’ front yards.

NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) can’t always be trusted to act in the benefit of all, but why is someone from Bath or Kittery or Castine being asked to OK something for these folks’ backyards? This is a perfect issue for the Legislature to decide, not the voters, most of whom probably don’t even know where The Forks is.

With that said, the crux of the Question 1 conundrum is this: Do we put up with unsightly clear-cutting and tall transmission lines to allow the conveyance of sustainable clean energy through the forests of western Maine to power Massachusetts’ ever-expanding energy needs, reduce Mainers’ electric bills, put lots of people to work and reduce New England’s overall carbon emissions?


Or do we vote to ban the project, thereby sparing the natural habitat and scenic views that locals and recreational enthusiasts argue should be forever preserved?

It’s a tough choice, especially for those of us who love the outdoors, but I’m voting “no” because sustainable energy is a noble goal. Hydroelectric power is possibly the cleanest alternative to oil and gas. And it’s more reliable than solar and wind.

While I’m no fan of wide swaths of transmission lines (and, actually, the corridor is only supposed to be 54 feet wide through much of the 53-mile-long proposed corridor), I realize humans can’t help but make an impact on their environment. We have lots of natural impact already: canals, buildings, roads, light pollution, dumps, ski resorts and even whole cities, which on Google Earth look like concrete-crusted scars on the landscape and serve as heat sinks. The list of manmade impacts on nature is endless.

Supporters of Question 1 believe the transmission line is too great a price to pay for clean energy. They think the line is unnecessary devastation on this section of woodsy wilderness (which is actually owned by paper companies). I’ve long thought they are shortsighted in opposing this project and eschewing a clean, sustainable, reliable source of energy that will benefit many future generations.

Ironically, many of these same environmental groups were instrumental in removing many of Maine’s hydroelectric dams in order to promote fish passage over the last several decades. If we still had those dams, maybe Massachusetts could have received its electricity from Maine hydropower and we could have avoided the transmission line to Canada altogether? It’s funny how things come back around.

Last, but not least, rarely do we have a chance to vote for something that will better the environment and provide jobs and spur the economy. They’re usually mutually exclusive. But in this CMP project, we can help Massachusetts tap into clean power while at the same time providing jobs and lowering costs for Maine utility ratepayers.

It’s a devil of a question to be sure, but there seems to be more pros than cons. I hate to agree with Gov. Janet Mills on anything, but she and I agree on this one. Vote “no” to build the line. Tap hydropower. Lower electricity rates. Reduce our dependence on gas and oil.

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