On Wednesday, The Daily Beast revealed how the successful effort to defeat a clean power project in Maine links back to a Ukrainian-born billionaire who made his fortune in the privatization of the Soviet Union's oil industry — and whose company is a massive shareholder in a natural gas plant threatened by the project.
"A mere 412,086 residents of the Pine Tree State — less than 38 percent of the eligible electorate — voted in the November referendum that decided the fate of the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) project," reported William Bredderman. "The scheme would have linked the Maine and Massachusetts electrical grids with 1200 megawatts of renewable hydroelectricity from Quebec. The 243,943 people who voted against construction of the 145-mile transmission line did so against the wishes not only of Gov. Janet Mills, but of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who tweeted just days before the plebiscite about the benefits the already-underway venture would deliver to the environment and the economy."
According to the report, one of the most prominent opponents of the project was Calpine, which owns a power plant in Westbrook, Maine. One of Calpine's largest shareholders is Access Industries, owned by Len Blavatnik, a British-American billionaire philanthropist born in Ukraine under the U.S.S.R.
"Today, Blavatnik is known in the West for posing with celebrities in his capacity as head of Warner Music Group, and for his profuse philanthropy. His family name adorns institutions in the U.S., Britain, and Israel, and in 2017, Queen Elizabeth knighted him in recognition of his generosity," said the report. "But the mogul owes most of his estimated $33.4 billion fortune to his dealings in the old USSR., where he began dabbling in the 1990s, experts say."
A report in 2017 indicated Blavatnik has also contributed to former President Donald Trump's legal defense fund against the investigation of his campaign's ties to Russia.
Blavatnik has vehemently denied all characterizations of himself as a "Russian oligarch" or in any way linked to Vladimir Putin — citing among other things his support from jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny — and his American citizenship has protected him from sanctions placed on Putin's inner circle.
Calpine, too, has insisted it was not the major player in opposing the hydropower project. However, as the report notes, "It was Calpine, along with two smaller power producers, that unsuccessfully begged the Maine Public Utilities Commission in 2018 to block the plan to channel hydroelectricity in from Canada. It was Calpine that bankrolled two studies asserting the project would increase carbon emissions by depriving other areas of hydroelectricity and by undercutting local renewable energy development ... And it was Calpine that appealed to the Department of Energy in early 2020, urging it to block the NECEC’s application to construct its conduit to Canada. The company’s concerns were explicitly financial: it feared that the NECEC would flood the region with so much cheap electricity that its own assets would become unprofitable."
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