Commentary

Opinion: Forces behind anti-corridor campaign employed shady tactics, in Maine and elsewhere

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Maine’s Supreme Court is set to rule any day now on an appeal of the referendum that passed last year blocking the continued construction of the New England Clean Energy Connect Corridor–a transmission corridor that would connect 1,200 megawatts of clean energy onto our power grid in Lewiston. 

In the months since the referendum, it has been increasingly common to hear Mainers express a form of buyer’s remorse when they look at their energy bills and say, “I voted for that referendum but now I think I made a mistake.”

Not long after the referendum vote, we learned that the price most of us pay for power, what’s called the standard offer, was going up by 83%. The sting from that sharp price increase was made worse in the months that followed as we watched the cost of gas, home heating oil, and just about everything else spike as well. Had Mainers not voted against the power line, it would have put downward pressure on future regional energy prices, bringing down the cost of electricity for everyone in New England. That’s a deal we should have taken last fall.

Today, as the Court considers whether the referendum rests on sound legal principles or not, it’s worth remembering that the primary opponents of the referendum were the out-of-state fossil fuel interests who are now making a windfall profit from that 83% increase. Chief among them was NextEra Energy, which donated more than $20,000,000 to the referendum campaign opposing the power line. Those profits aren’t reinvested in consumer programs or the power grid and they are not used to help our state transition to clean energy like our regulated utility companies do. It’s pure profit for companies like NextEra.

As it turns out, NextEra’s interference in the Maine referendum was not the first time they’ve been caught using their money to rig the outcome of public policy debates. In Florida, a series of newspaper investigations unveiled a pattern of interference in campaigns and elections that has now come under scrutiny as part of a criminal investigation. It seems that consultants working for NextEra recruited “ghost candidates” to run for the Florida Legislature – a scheme that would have placed non-existent candidates on the ballot to siphon votes away from elected officials they dislike.

NextEra’s political consultants even recruited a candidate with the same name as an existing candidate and got him on the ballot. This caused enough confusion among voters to flip that seat NextEra’s way. These political consultants were able to flip three Senate seats with these tactics. Now at least one of the ghost candidates admitted he was bribed to run.

The ghost candidate scheme now appears to be only the tip of the iceberg in Florida. In Jacksonville, a journalist who wrote critically of a NextEra company found himself being spied on. Meanwhile those NextEra consultants behind the ghost candidates acquired a Florida news outlet and then posed as journalists to dish out dirt on NextEra’s critics. And separately, when a State Senator proposed new legislation that could eat into the profits of a NextEra company, theirCEO fired off an email saying “I want you to make his life a living hell….seriously.” 

While this behavior has begun to catch up with NextEra in Florida, there is some evidence they employed similar tactics here in Maine to oppose the Clean Energy Corridor. The Maine Ethics Commission is still conducting its investigation into Stop the Corridor, a dark money LLC linked to NextEra that has funneled untold millions into Maine opposing the corridor. They have also openly used their market position to delay clean energy development by refusing to upgrade critical breaker equipment at their Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant.

I am hopeful that justice is coming. Just last month a leading investment firm downgraded NextEra’s stock, citing growing media scrutiny of Florida Power and Light’s lobbying practice, and last week a Member of Congress from Florida wrote to the U.S. Department of Justice requesting an investigation into “apparent corruption.”

No one knows how Maine’s Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of the referendum campaign against the corridor, but I think it is high time all Mainers know the truth about the anti-corridor campaign and the forces behind it. 

About Nathan Wadsworth

Rep. Nathan Wadsworth is in his third term as a member of the Maine House of Representatives and currently serves on the Appropriations Committee. He formerly served for two terms as the ranking member of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee that deals with broadband expansion and net neutrality.

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