Americas, Energy, New in Lobbying, US states

Quebec power company prepares for Round 2 against Maine environmentalists

Canadian public utility Hydro-Quebec is getting ready for Round 2 in its fight against Maine environmentalists after surviving an electoral challenge to its proposed $1 billion power line carrying hydropower to New England.

The company’s US affiliate, H.Q. Energy Services (US), has signed up with Forbes Tate Partners (FTP) of Washington for another six months through April, while increasing the maximum amount authorized under the agreement to $449,000. That’s up from $329,000 under the five-month contract agreed to in July.

The contract extension was signed on Nov. 2, just days after opponents of the New England Clean Energy Connect project received permission to start collecting signatures for a referendum on the matter next year, when Mainers vote for governor. In August the state’s supreme court tossed out a proposed question on this year’s ballot, ruling that language constraining the executive branch was unconstitutional.

“I think [the power line proponents] see that this will come to a vote and that they’re going to need to try to keep pumping money into their effort to change the will of Mainers,” said Sandra Howard, who heads the citizens group that led the petition drive to get the issue on the November ballot. “We know from polling back in May that despite millions of dollars, they’ve barely budged the needle on that.”

Opponents of the power line need 61,000 valid signatures to get their three-part referendum question on next year’s ballot. Howard said they collected 23,000 on Nov. 3 alone.

The new contract adds several new services beyond the original contract:

  • Weekly calls with Client;
  • Direct consultation on issues and questions as they arise including engagement with FTP principals as needed;
  • Feedback on advertising materials and media strategy;
  • Analysis of outside research as it becomes available, including strategic recommendations;
  • Recommendations for direct activities Client might undertake to address issues in the state as they arise, including counsel on coalition building and outreach, and;
  • Brief written reports on the New England Clean Energy Connect campaign status at monthly intervals, if necessary, for Client.

Hydro-Quebec and its partner Central Maine Power insist the 1,200 MW project will keep forest destruction to a minimum, all while creating the region’s largest source of renewable energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and lowering energy costs. Opponents – which include environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Sierra Club as well as rival energy companies – have raised concerns about damage to the environment by both the transmission line running through the Maine woods and Canada’s large-scale dams.

The fight over this year’s ballot initiative has shattered spending records, with two political action committees that support the project spending more than $19 million combined, far more than any other group. On top of that Hydro-Quebec has disclosed hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to public relations firms and pollsters (in addition to Forbes Tate, H.Q. Energy Services (US) has also retained the services of Yarmouth-based Blaze Partners for a maximum of $300,000 through 2020 to “provide strategic advice, digital media planning/buying and public relations services”).

The spending by the Canadian public utility has sparked its own political backlash and a push for the state legislature to ban foreign spending on referendum campaigns.