- Voters in Maine approved “Question 1” on the November ballot, in an effort to ban a 145 mile transmission line needed to carry hydropower from Quebec to help meet Massachusetts’ clean energy goals
- NextEra heavily financed a campaign in support of the ban. The utility has also refused to make equipment upgrades that would be necessary for the project to interconnect.
- NextEra’s PAC contributed $10K to a dark money group fighting another New England clean energy solution, offshore wind. The dark money group, “State Solutions,” spent over $4,000 on anti-wind power Facebook ads in Maine.
- The utility’s opposition to new transmission for clean energy and funding of the anti-wind Republican Governors Association is contradictory to the company’s efforts to portray itself as a leader on wind and clean energy.
NextEra was the top funder of Mainers for Local Power, the group that spent $24.5 million in support of a ballot question approved by Maine voters this week that aims to ban a transmission line meant to carry clean energy from hydropower in Canada to Massachusetts.
“It is clear that over time new transmission needs to be built out for that build-out,” Rebecca Kujawa, chief financial officer for NextEra, said earlier this year referring to the build-out of renewable energy that is needed to meet the Biden administration’s clean energy and climate goals.
NextEra describes itself as the “World’s Largest Generator of Renewable Energy from the Wind and Sun” on its website, but in New England, NextEra’s generation portfolio is primarily fueled by oil and gas plants located in Maine and Massachusetts, and the Seabrook nuclear plant in New Hampshire. NextEra’s 850 MW oil-burning plant in Maine uses one of the dirtiest formal of power generation in the country.
Mainers for Local Power received over $20 million from NextEra. Calpine Corp and Vistra Energy, which also own gas plants in the region, contributed around $2.7 million and $3 million to the same political action committee, respectively.
Maine voters dealt a blow to Massachusetts’ clean energy and climate change goals when they approved Question 1 by a wide margin. The ballot question aims to block the completion of a new transmission line called New England Clean Energy Connect by Central Maine Power (CMP).
Opposition to the project in Maine was largely driven by local distrust of CMP, which was fined $10 million last year for poor customer service, and concerns that the project would impact 53-miles of Maine’s North Woods, while the benefits and power supply would largely flow to Massachusetts. Local environmental groups supported Question 1, and supporters of the ballot question pointed to CMP’s record of fighting rooftop solar in Maine and profits from the fossil fuel industry.
The issue transformed into a $90 million political spending war that pitted CMP and Hydro-Quebec against NextEra, Calpine, and Vistra, and left Maine awash in misleading ads and claims. The fight is expected to continue, despite Maine voters soundly rejecting the project yesterday.
Funding Mainers for Local Power is just one way that NextEra is blocking completion of the new transmission line, and $10,000 that NextEra’s PAC contributed earlier this year to a dark money group behind anti-wind power ads that appeared in Mainers’ Facebook feeds raise new questions about NextEra’s connection to attacks on clean energy projects in the state.
NextEra is refusing to make equipment upgrades at its Seabrook plant that would be necessary to complete the NECEC project
Regardless of the outcome of the ballot initiative, in order for the NECEC project to move forward, NextEra would also need to make upgrades to circuit breakers at the utility’s Seabrook plant. Avangrid, the parent company behind the NECEC Transmission, filed a complaint at FERC on October 13, 2020 alleging that NextEra is blocking the project and protecting its revenue by slow-walking the necessary upgrades. Avangrid said it has agreed to pay for the costs associated with the breakers, while NextEra has maintained that it is not obligated to make the replacements, despite an Interconnection System Impact Study determining that the replacements are needed, according to a brief filed at FERC by Avangrid last week.
NextEra’s Seabrook plant also has raised concerns among some members of Congress. Members Warren and Markey sent a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission highlighting several serious safety concerns in May 2021.
NextEra has maintained that it “has not refused to replace the generation breaker; it has simply not agreed to incur a financial loss for NECEC’s sole benefit,” according to a report by Utility Dive. NextEra added that “it isn’t trying to block the NECEC project or other clean energy projects,” however the utility’s funding of Mainers for Local Power, and ties to anti-wind power ads are in direct conflict with the company’s statement.
NextEra’s PAC contributed $10K to a dark money group behind anti-wind power Facebook ads in Maine
NextEra’s PAC contributed $10,000 to State Solutions Inc., a 501(c)(4) affiliate of the Republican Governors Association (RGA), in March. The group also goes by the name Make Ohio Great, according to its IRS profile. State Solutions ran several Facebook ads earlier this year, spending over $4,000 to attack Governor Janet Mill’s plans to develop an offshore wind power project in Maine. The ads link to a story featuring fishermen on a fake news site hosted by RGA.
Former Republican Maine Governor Paul LePage, who is contemplating a return to politics, and his 501(c)(4) Maine People Before Politics, want to make Maine current Democratic Governor Janet Mills’ support for limited offshore wind development an issue during the next election.
NextEra is also a major contributor to the Republican Governors Association and contributed $500,000 to the RGA last year. RGA received a total of $4.8 million from utilities in the 2018 election cycle – $1.5 million of which originated from NextEra Energy.
State Solutions Inc. and RGA have backed fossil fuel projects in other states. In 2017, State Solutions ran a different set of ads in Virginia supporting the controversial, and ultimately failed, Atlantic Coast Pipeline project. Dominion Energy and Duke Energy spent $3.4 billion on the scuttled pipeline, according to an article by the Washington Post.
Header Image from Mainers for Local Power Facebook Ad Library
Edit: A previous version of this post incorrectly named Vineyard Wind as the wind project State Solutions. The correct name for the wind project is New England Aqua Ventus.