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Opponents continue push against Maine power project

Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press


Opponents continue push against Maine power project

Opponents of a $1 billion power corridor that would travel through wilderness in Western Maine have collected roughly 100,000 signatures for a referendum drive to defeat it, officials said. The petitions were being delivered Thursday to the secretary of state’s office in Augusta, which will review them. More than 63,000 signatures have to be certified for the measure to appear on the ballot. The referendum would require legislative approval for any electrical power line project that exceeds 50 miles and would impose a prohibition on such a project in the Upper Kennebec Valley. Much of the project calls for widening existing corridors, but a new swath would be cut through 53 miles of wilderness. The New England Clean Energy Connect would provide a conduit for up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to reach the regional power grid, reducing greenhouse emissions and stabilizing energy costs in the region, supporters say. Critics say the benefits are overstated and that the project would destroy unspoiled wilderness. The project would be fully funded by Massachusetts ratepayers and is aimed at meeting that state’s clean energy goals, but supporters say the entire region would benefit from the project. It’s the second referendum drive aimed at stopping the project. — ASSOCIATED PRESS



Instacart to lay off about 1,900, including its only unionized workers

Instacart plans to terminate about 1,900 employees’ jobs, including the only unionized positions in the United States, representing a fulsome embrace of the gig economy. The grocery delivery company already classifies most of its workers as independent contractors, whose ranks have ballooned to more than 500,000 during the coronavirus pandemic. But starting in 2015, the company hired a small subset of workers as employees, who under US law are entitled to protections like minimum wage and can be subject to more direction and training by their boss. “What we found is that our shoppers require training and supervision, which is how you improve the quality of the picking,” Instacart chief executive Apoorva Mehta said at the time. “You can’t do that when they are independent contractors.” Now, Instacart is moving in the other direction, eliminating 1,877 employees’ positions, including those of 10 workers in Illinois who last year became the first in the country to vote to unionize at the company. The company said it’s doing this as part of a shift toward new models, like providing its technology to retailers to have their own workers prepare customers’ orders. — BLOOMBERG NEWS



American Airlines to sell unused wine to the public

American Airlines is trying to sell some of the wine it’s not pouring on flights by offering bottles for home delivery. The company is aiming for $40,000 in sales through its Flagship Cellars program this quarter, said Alison Taylor, American’s chief customer officer. Wine usage on its jetliners has tumbled 80 percent amid the unprecedented travel collapse caused by the coronavirus pandemic, American said in an e-mail Thursday. The Fort Worth-based carrier hasn’t been selling alcohol in its coach cabins during the pandemic as part of an effort to limit contact between passengers and flight attendants. In addition, sales of premium seats across the industry have been hammered by a plunge in business travel. Under the program, customers can select from collections of mixed wines, build a custom box or purchase a monthly $99.99 subscription for three wines, including delivery, American said in a statement. The offer is open to anyone who’s least 21, and buyers can also earn miles in the airline’s rewards program. — BLOOMBERG NEWS



Fewer gatherings mean fewer colds and lower over-the-counter sales

As Americans put social gatherings on hold to avoid contracting the coronavirus, they’re catching fewer common colds, damping sales of the over-the-counter remedies that usually fly off the shelves when the temperature drops. Sales of cold, flu, and cough medicine in the United States plummeted 46 percent in the five weeks ended Dec. 26 from the same period last year, according to data from market research firm Nielsen. — BLOOMBERG NEWS


Rates dip slightly

Long-term mortgage rates slipped this week while remaining at record-low levels. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac reported Thursday that the average rate on the benchmark 30-year fixed-rate home loan eased to 2.77 percent from 2.79 percent last week. By contrast, the rate stood at 3.60 percent a year ago. The average rate on 15-year fixed-rate loans, popular among homeowners seeking to refinance their mortgages, declined to 2.21 percent from 2.23 percent. — ASSOCIATED PRESS


Union Pacific sees uptick in shipping

Union Pacific’s fourth-quarter profit chugged ahead as shipping volume improved for the first time since before the coronavirus pandemic slowed the economy to a crawl last year. Union Pacific said volume grew 3 percent as the economy continued to recover from the worst of the pandemic. In last year’s second quarter, the number of shipments railroads handled plummeted more than 20 percent as many businesses and factories shut down as officials imposed restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus before rebounding sharply in the third quarter. — ASSOCIATED PRESS



Home building rose nearly 6 percent in December

US home construction jumped 5.8 percent in December to 1.67 million units, a 14-year high that topped the strongest annual showing from the country’s builders in 15 years. The better-than-expected December gain followed an increase of 9.8 percent in November when housing starts climbed to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.58 million units, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. The December pace was the strongest since the building rate reached 1.72 million units in September 2006. — ASSOCIATED PRESS


Trips through the Channel Tunnel plummet 95 percent

France and the UK are negotiating an aid package for Eurostar International Ltd. after the coronavirus crisis wiped out 95 percent of the Channel Tunnel train operator’s passenger traffic. One option under discussion could see the Bank of England provide funds from its Covid loan facility as part of the UK contribution, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified. The person said the train operator is eligible despite French government majority ownership. France controls Eurostar via state railway SNCF, but the firm is based in London and seen as important to the British economy. — BLOOMBERG NEWS


Shipping delays between EU and UK caused by Brexit, virus

More than half of businesses moving goods from the European Union to the UK have experienced delays since Jan. 1 due to Brexit red tape and virus restrictions, according to a survey. The research by the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply said 60 percent of firms reported delays to shipments going from the bloc to Britain. More than a third of the 185 supply chain managers surveyed by CIPS said their goods had been held up for several days. Commerce between the Britain and its largest trading partner has been hit by a double whammy of new border formalities — such as customs declarations and rules of origin paperwork — and the need for drivers to obtain a negative coronavirus test to enter France. — BLOOMBERG NEWS