Hydropower Transmission Corridor

Heavy machinery is used to cut trees to widen an existing Central Maine Power power line corridor to make way for new utility poles in 2021, near Bingham. Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press, file

NextEra Energy concealed its identity as a large donor to Democrats in the days before the 2018 election and funded a group that should have registered as a political action committee in 2019 when it worked to oppose the construction of a transmission line project through western Maine, according to documents released by the Maine ethics commission Wednesday.

The Florida-based company owns the Seabrook nuclear plant and aggressively tried to stop the New England Clean Energy Connect corridor, which would have introduced new competition to the energy market. But the extent of its role was not known until Wednesday.

The Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Elections Practices unanimously approved consent agreements with the Stop the Corridor group and Alpine Initiatives LLC Wednesday, settling years-long investigations into campaign spending by the two groups and levying some of the largest fines ever imposed by the commission.

The agreements say both groups should have registered as political action or ballot question committees. Stop the Corridor agreed to a $50,000 fine for not registering as a ballot question committee and failing to file three campaign finance reports.

Alpine Initiatives agreed to a $160,000 fine for failing to register as a political action committee and for not filing a campaign finance report.

Alpine Initiatives had been under investigation for a $150,000 donation it made to the Democratic Party just before the 2018 election that was called into question because of a lack of public evidence that the company conducted any other business and a suspicion that it was created to hide the identity of the actual donor. The donation was made just four days after the company was formed in 2018, and the company dissolved just 14 months later.


According to the consent agreement signed Wednesday, the Hawthorn Group LC, a Virginia consulting firm that was working for NextEra, helped set up the company and transferred $160,000 into its account the day before Alpine Initiatives donated to the Democratic Party.

The Democratic candidate for governor at the time, Gov. Janet Mills, never dropped her public support for the corridor project. However, Maine consultants employed by the law firm Bernstein Shur had thought Democratic officials were more likely to oppose the NECEC.

“In 2018, the Maine Democratic Party filed all of the necessary and legally required campaign finance reports to the proper oversight authorities,” Annina Breen, a spokesperson for the Maine Democratic Party, said in a statement. “We cannot comment on the actions of Alpine Initiatives – the subject of this inquiry, or any other party beyond what is contained in the Maine ethics commission report, and we appreciate the work of the commission and its staff to ensure that Maine’s campaign finance laws are being followed fully.”

According to the consent agreement with Stop the Corridor, NextEra paid $95,726 to the anti-corridor group between August 2019 and the end of March 2020. That money was spent with Bernstein Shur on political consulting and on the group No CMP Corridor.

From 2018 to 2020, Stop the Corridor worked with a coalition of volunteers and groups opposed to the NECEC, including the Natural Resources Council of Maine, Sierra Club and No CMP Corridor.

Many of its activities were not subject to campaign finance law, but the consultants working for the group also paid field workers to train volunteers on the technicalities of signature gathering for petitions as opponents worked to get a statewide referendum on the ballot in an attempt to stop the project.


Stop the Corridor covered some of the costs associated with petitioning efforts such as travel, a website for volunteers to sign up to petition and printing. Those activities were reported by the No CMP Corridor PAC as in-kind contributions in their campaign finance reports.

“This reporting indicated that Stop the Corridor had engaged in paid activities to assist with petitioning, but it did not disclose any information about the sources that paid for Stop the Corridor’s assistance,” the agreement signed Wednesday said.


Paul McDonald, a Bernstein Shur attorney representing Clean Energy for ME, the company behind Stop the Corridor, and NextEra, spoke at length at Wednesday’s meeting about NextEra’s desire to not be publicly identified during its work with Stop the Corridor or in the consent agreements.

McDonald did not name NextEra, but only referred to them as “the client,” and said it would be unnecessary and cause reputational harm to name the client in the consent agreements.

He said the client was under the understanding that the consultants and advisers it had hired were engaging in activities that were in accordance with campaign finance law and would not require its identity to be disclosed. NextEra is named in a campaign finance report attached to the agreement with Stop the Corridor, however.


“That disclosure is all the public would be entitled to receive had the disclosure been made back in the 2019-2020 time period when the commission staff contend the filing should have been made,” McDonald said.

NextEra is not named in the Alpine Initiatives agreement, but McDonald confirmed in response to a question from a commissioner that “the client” mentioned in the Stop the Corridor campaign finance report is the same client as is mentioned in that agreement.

NextEra was at risk of losing tens of millions of dollars a year if a new source of lower-cost Canadian hydropower came into New England. Supporters of the 2021 ballot question to block the project spent roughly $24 million and NextEra was the primary donor, pitching in $20 million.

NextEra also was accused of moving too slowly to upgrade a key circuit breaker at Seabrook that was needed to increase capacity in the grid and allow for the corridor to bring in the Canadian hydropower. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ultimately ruled that NextEra had to move forward with the upgrade.

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