Lawyers representing developers of the stalled $1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect corridor in Maine have filed new court documents alleging that a successful referendum blocking the project is an unconstitutionally retroactive law.

In briefs filed Wednesday with the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, the lawyers said the referendum known as Question 1, adopted by voters in November, “would chill future economic development in Maine, frustrate efforts to address climate change and violate basic constitutional principles.”

The briefs were submitted Wednesday in advance of a hearing before the state’s top court, scheduled for May.

NECEC Transmission LLC, a subsidiary of Central Maine Power Co. and its parent firm, Avangrid Networks, began work a year ago on the 145-mile transmission line to bring electricity from Quebec to Lewiston, but opponents successfully pushed a referendum to block construction. The transmission line was to connect to the electric grid in Lewiston, and the Canadian-generated hydropower was ultimately destined for consumers in Massachusetts.

The prospect of clearing a 53-mile portion of the transmission corridor through Maine forestland has motivated the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Sierra Club and the Appalachian Mountain Club to join forces with energy interests they typically might oppose to stop the project.

Rounding out the opposition are residents who, among other things, don’t like or trust CMP, don’t want to see more power lines in the Upper Kennebec Valley or are against the massive reservoirs already created by Hydro-Quebec on the lands of Indigenous people.


Question 1, approved by a roughly 60-40 margin, banned construction of high-voltage power lines in the Upper Kennebec region, required the state Legislature to approve similar projects, retroactive to 2020, and also required legislative approval of projects using public lands, retroactive to 2014, so it would cover the transmission line, first proposed nearly a decade ago.

NECEC sued the day after the referendum was adopted and continued work on the corridor until Gov. Janet Mills asked the company to halt construction while it pursued its court case. The state Department of Environmental Protection also pulled its permit for the project shortly after the referendum passed.

In December, a Maine Business and Consumer Court judge turned down a preliminary injunction sought by the developers to block implementation of the referendum adopted by voters the month before. NECEC Transmission and Avangrid are appealing that ruling to the state Supreme Court.

“This appeal presents a momentous question,” the briefs begin. “Is there any limit on the electorate’s power to change a law retroactively to ban a specific development project, despite prior executive and judicial approval of the project and the developer’s expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars to build a substantial portion of the project in good faith reliance on those approvals?

“According to the Business and Consumer Court, there is no effective limit on this power,” the briefs state. “That answer is not, and cannot be, correct.”

In the briefs, the developers’ lawyers say the Maine Constitution bars the Legislature from actions depriving “a developer of the right to complete a project, after executive agencies have issued final permits … authorizing construction and operation of the project, and after substantial construction has been undertaken and substantial expenditures have been made.”

The briefs say the state Supreme Court had previously upheld some of the permits for the project after they were challenged by opponents.

The briefs also argue that retroactive laws are unconstitutional and say the company has vested rights in being allowed to proceed with the project because it had already invested $450 million on supplies and contracts for construction of the power line.

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