Excerpted from Law360, August 13, 2020
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on August 13, 2020 rejected a state ballot initiative aimed at stopping construction of a $1 billion power line that would transmit clean energy from Canada through Maine. The court found that the measure would overstep citizens' constitutional authority to legislate through initiatives because the Maine Public Utilities Commission's approval of the New England Clean Energy Connect transmission project isn't technically a law.
The court noted that the decision does not relate to the merits of the initiative itself.
The court said that, while Maine Public Utilities Commission was established by the legislature and granted power through the legislature, it performed distinct actions from the legislature that can't be directly impacted by voter whims. The court ruled that the ballot initiative amounted to an effort to interfere in the decision-making process of an entity that is quasi-judicial and performs executive actions.
"The initiative at issue here is not legislative in nature because its purpose and effect is to dictate the Commission's exercise of its quasi-judicial executive-agency function in a particular proceeding," the court said. "The resolve would interfere with and vitiate the Commission's fact-finding and adjudicatory function — an executive power conferred on the Commission by the legislature."
The court's decision marks a victory for the transmission project, which would transport 1,200 megawatts of clean electricity from Quebec and connect to the New England energy grid.
The project was first approved by the Maine Public Utilities Commission in May 2019 after Central Maine Power Co. (a subsidiary of Avangrid Networks Inc.) petitioned for a certificate of public convenience and necessity for the project. The certification was granted after an extensive public hearing and after a voluminous amount of evidence was considered that culminated in a March 2019 report recommending the certification, according to the court.
The case is Avangrid Networks Inc., et al. v. Secretary of State, et al., case number cum-20-181, in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.