December 6, 2021
Political Analysis Issue
On November 2, Maine voters faced Maine Question 1: the Legislative Approval of Certain Electric Transmission Lines Initiatives. The question contested the construction of the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), a transmission line between Quebec and Massachusetts running through Maine. The ballot question also sought to implement stricter approval measures for future electric transmission lines in the state. Nine issue groups spent a total of $52.04M on advertising surrounding the transmission project since October 2019. In 2021 alone, the total was $39.9M, making it one of the 2021’s most expensive state issues around the country. A “yes” vote on the ballot question would halt the pipeline project while a “no” vote would let it continue. More specifically, voters selecting “yes” on Maine Question 1 voted to “prohibit the construction of electric transmission lines defined as high-impact in the Upper Kennebec Region, including the NECEC, and [to] require a two-thirds vote of each state legislative chamber to approve high-impact electric transmission line projects.” “No” voters supported the continued construction of the NECEC and opposed the two-thirds vote necessary for future projects. ultimately in this political analysis issue, Mainers voted in support of the ballot question, as nearly 60% of voters selected “yes” to stop the construction of the NECEC. The outcome of this issue will hold large ramifications for energy development throughout New England.
Question 1 was one of two referendum questions on the Maine statewide ballot in November. Construction on the 145-mile long NECEC began in January 2021. Question 1 specifically targeted one section of the pipeline that was to be built through northern Maine. While the energy from the pipeline would go from plants in Quebec to electric utilities in Maine and Massachusetts, advertisers opposing the pipeline emphasized that Massachusetts would receive more of the benefit. Of the four media markets in Maine, Portland and Bangor saw 94% of all spending. Advertisers opposing the ballot measure greatly outspent those supporting the measure in the Presque Isle, Bangor, and Portland markets, while advertisers supporting the measure held the advantage in the Boston market.
Supporters of the continued construction of the NECEC outspent those against the pipeline project as advertisements opposing the ballot question made up 66% of total spending. Five issue groups spent more than $1M each in advertising. Mainers for Local Power spent more than any other advertiser with over $17M in ads supporting the ballot measure and opposing the pipeline transmission project. The four next highest spenders: Clean Energy Matters ($15.02M), Hydro Quebec ($9.51M), Mainers for Fair Laws ($8.19M), and Vote No To Protect Maine ($1.31M), all opposed Maine Question 1.
Issue Analysis Timeline
Overall spending increased dramatically in August 2021 ahead of the November 2nd vote. Advertisers opposing the ballot measure placed both a greater number of individual ads and airings of those ads than advertisers supporting the measure. Advertisers on both sides of the ballot initiative attempted to convey the positive environmental and economic impacts of their positions. A Mainers for Local Power ad, supporting the ballot measure to halt the pipeline project, stated the pipeline project “wants to clear cut this special place. All to send power to Massachusetts.” A Hydro Quebec ad opposing the ballot measure contested, “the corridor will bring renewable hydropower directly to our state and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.”
As anticipated, Issue groups on both sides of the ballot measure prioritized broadcast spending over other media types. Broadcast made up 82% of spending opposing the measure and 77% of the spending supporting the measure. Following the vote to halt the transmission project, the NECEC Transmission, LLC filed a lawsuit arguing that Question 1 “violated the separation of powers and the sanctity of contracts.” Despite her public support of the transmission project, Maine Governor Janet Mills stated that the project “should give deference to the will of the voters.” Although construction has stopped for the time being, the construction of the NECEC and future pipelines in Maine may be decided in the courts in the coming months.