Beginning An Era of Renewed Relations Between Maine & New Brunswick, Canada

Clearly pleased with the new cross-cultural partnership, Gov. Baldacci and Premier of New Brunswick Graham signed an agreement to form a partnership and analyze the legal, technical, and environmental implications of sharing power across the border.

By Ramona du Houx

"This visit begins a new beginning where we can work together for the opportunities for all of our people," said Governor Baldacci, addressing New Brunswick’s Legislature. "We live in a rapidly changing and expanding global economy. This new economy necessitates that we work together regionally for our mutual benefit. By working together on issues such as education, tourism, economic development, and energy, we will greatly benefit the citizens of the entire region."

The governor was in Fredericton as the honored guest of Premier Shawn Graham on February 21, 2007. It was the first time in history that a governor from the state of Maine addressed the members of the New Brunswick Legislature. The two then visited Saint John, where Baldacci was guest speaker at the Saint John Board of Trade and Enterprise Saint John luncheon.

"Already we have the collaboration between the sister cities of Bangor and St. John. They have focused on regional investments establishing trade partnerships and are committed to regional growth and prosperity. Now they are exploring a possible Bangor-St John trade and growth corridor to enhance these efforts," said Baldacci.

"Maine and New Brunswick are both rich in natural resources, which can be harnessed for clean energy. We both want to ensure we pay competitive prices for electricity; we both are producers of an electricity surplus; and we both are committed to reducing carbon emissions that stem from electricity generation that contributes to global warming. Together we can expand the clean-energy market, reduce carbon pollution, all the while creating new jobs and increasing the production of a clean, environmentally responsible product we can export to both countries."

Shared priorities in education, economic development, and energy first brought the two leaders together in February, in Maine, where they signed two memorandums of understanding (MOUs). One MOU is designed to enhance the mutual benefits of the Maine/New Brunswick electrical interconnections; the other is to enhance educational opportunities for both jurisdictions.

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Business leaders, workers, dignitaries and government officials who helped make the memorandum of understanding for electrical power sharing possible pose with Gov. Baldacci and Premier Graham.

Electricity without borders —

The MOU energy agreement, signed at Eastern Maine Community College, sets out specific areas where the province and state will work together to explore areas of collaboration and potential options for more efficient utilization of their electrical systems.

"Governor Baldacci called me the day after his reelection. We’ve been talking at length ever since then. I’m excited to be here to lay the groundwork and to increase and strengthen the cooperation between the state of Maine and our province of New Brunswick," said Premier Graham during his visit. "There is much to share and learn from the similarities between our two jurisdictions. As geographic neighbors, there is much to learn about our economies and our place in an era of globalization. As neighbors we share common cultural and demographic ties of families and communities. We both are diversifying from natural resource-based economies today. We both have a mix of both urban and rural communities."

"We, in the state of Maine, recognize the importance of being energy independent for national security reasons, economic development, and job opportunities. I’ve committed Maine to my Apollo initiative," said Governor Baldacci. President John F. Kennedy challenged the nation to put a man on the moon when he was in office. Within ten years the goal was completed. Governor Baldacci’s challenge to Maine is to make the state energy independent in ten years.

"I’ve talked more on the phone to Premier Graham in the last four months than I have to any other premier in the last four years," said Baldacci. "Working together we are moving our region towards the goal of becoming self-sufficient with renewable energies."

"In New Brunswick we have set a goal to become a self-sufficient province. We recognize our government cannot reach this goal alone; it’s going to take strong partnerships," said Graham. "One of these key partnerships is New Brunswick’s relationship with the state of Maine."

Maine exports some of the energy it produces to other New England States. Because of the ISO New England agreement, Maine is forced to help out other New England States with their electricity needs. As a result Maine consumers are paying transmission and capacity costs for other states in New England. It costs Maine $100 million a year to help power Connecticut’s electricity consumption. The governor and the Legislature requested that the Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) study alternatives to the ISO, when the ISO decided to increase the costs to Mainers further. The MPUC’s January report said the additional cost to Maine ratepayers for staying in the ISO grid would be as much as $616 million over the next five years. The study also found that there are no legal, economic, or technical barriers to pursuing an electricity partnership with New Brunswick as an alternative electrical resource.

"One of the two areas of concern that I run into the most while talking to businesses across the state is energy; the other is transportation. We cannot accept a proposed electricity rate increase of 30 percent over the next four years that the ISO has put before us. We only had one option before today with the ISO, now we have two," said the governor. "Maine’s current arrangement with the ISO-New England presents a number of inequities. By joining with New Brunswick we now have choices, and hopefully we will have stability with our eclectic bills."

Maine’s electricity demand peaks in the summer; New Brunswick’s in the winter.

"This is and opportunity to explore options from ISO New England. This is also an opportunity to explore new relationships in order to bring renewable energy in from Canada," said MPUC Chairman Kurt Adams. "Canada is rich in renewable energy, rich in hydropower, and they are looking for partners. This is the beginning of a dialogue on how to bring non-carbon-emitting resources to Maine. It’s very exciting. The governor is showing great leadership."

The state has been working with Central Maine Power Co., Bangor Hydro-Electric Co., and other parties involved to generate good negotiations. As a result CMP and Bangor Hydro are open to exploring the possibility of transporting and distributing power to and from Canada.

"We’re going to focus on this as a process and offer all our resources to it," said CMP President and CEO Sara Burns.

Verso paper mill in Bucksport representatives were also at the signing, offering their support for Maine partnering with New Brunswick. Electricity costs at the mill are one of their largest expenditures, and they believe rates will decrease with this borderless electricity exchange.

"Increasing access to the New England electricity market is a key requirement for New Brunswick’s generation expansion agenda. Improving efficiencies of our electric systems should benefit consumers and the environment, for both New Brunswickers and Mainers," said Graham. "This is a win-win situation for both jurisdictions. It’s the first step to providing prosperity for our citizens on both sides of the border."

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Directors of Maine’s community colleges discuss the additional programs students can enroll in at community colleges in New Brunswick at no extra cost.

Community colleges expanding horizons —

Graham and Baldacci also witnessed another important collaboration milestone between the Maine Community College System (MCCS) and the New Brunswick Community College (NBCC) during Graham’s visit to Bangor.

Dr. John Fitzsimmons, president of Maine Community College and Michel Thériault, assistant deputy minister and CEO of New Brunswick Community College, signed an agreement highlighting their mutual interest in providing excellent service to their students and the communities they serve. The MOU identifies how they will share knowledge, experience, and resources in pursuit of this objective, and enhance options for the mobility of students between the colleges. The MCCS and NBCC share many challenges and opportunities as regional systems having a mix of urban and rural campuses. They both operate in similar economies, with a combination of centralized and decentralized functions.

MCCS’s enrollment soared by 47 percent since the governor introduced the system.

Students from NBCC and MCCS will now be able to take courses at campuses on both sides of the border. The agreement will make it possible for Maine residents to enroll in programs that are not currently available at Maine’s community colleges, like international business, international tourism, vocational forestry, and agriculture. It will also open the doors for Maine residents to study at one of the five French-speaking institutions in the province.

"As a result of this collaboration, we will be able to offer about 50 brand-new programs," said Fitzsimmons. "It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to create new opportunities for our students at no additional costs."

"I am encouraged by the opportunities to learn from each other as we expand our community college system to meet the needs of a growing and diverse population," Governor Baldacci said. "It’s wonderful that students at community colleges, both sides of the border, can exercise this option. It adds to their overall education, their resumé, and it gives them an international studies portfolio, which gives them a step up in marketplace."

"We are also excited about creating more opportunities for students and faculty through the collaborative work of the community colleges," said Graham. "These new agreements demonstrate the spirit of partnership and cooperation between the state of Maine and the province of New Brunswick."

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Premier Graham and Governor Baldacci at a press conference in New Brunswick after the governor addressed their Parliament

Future collaborations —

The premier and governor had opportunities to engage in private discussions north and south of the border, focusing on issues of common interest, including energy, education, and the economy.

"Ninety percent of our exports from New Brunswick went to the U.S. last year; 20 percent of that went to the state of Maine. New Brunswick is the most trade active of all Canadian provinces today," said Graham. ‘The state of Maine has a key role to play in the transfer of those goods."

"When we go on trade missions overseas, it would be better to represent the New England, Maritime region," said the governor. "Working together promoting the region will be more beneficial for the entire region."

Graham and Baldacci also noted their ongoing partnerships in joint marketing initiatives in the U.S. market to encourage visitors in Maine to continue on to New Brunswick, and to entice those who have visited in the past, or planning a first visit to Maine, to be intrigued by the concept of a "two-nation vacation."

Significant upgrades to infrastructure at the major international border crossings in Woodstock-Houlton and St. Stephen-Calais will be completed in the near future, prompting further tourism and economic development efforts on both sides of the border.

The leaders discussed the LNG natural gas terminal transportation issue. Graham said that his region already produces LNG gas, but in this instance he is concerned about the shipping. Both leaders are committed to the decision the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will make.

Graham and Baldacci have been in close contact over the shortage of propane that Maine experienced because of rail strike in Canada, where Maine receives most of its supply from. "The premier has been very helpful and understanding," said Baldacci.

They also spoke about the Western Hemisphere Tourism Initiative (WHTI) ruling, which requires all travelers entering the U.S. to carry a passport. They highlighted the importance of having the proper technology and infrastructure in place at the Maine-New Brunswick border prior to the implementation of the travel document requirements for land crossings. Three Canadian premiers intend to make a formal complaint to President Bush about WHTI.

Overall the discussions were positive and the leaders agreed on a wide array of issues.

"The education, cultural, economic and business foundations that we are building are exciting," said the governor. "This is the beginning of a relationship that holds great promise and a brighter future for Maine and New Brunswick."

"A Maine poet, Henry Longfellow, once wrote that a good conversation is worth more than ten years of book learning. I have greatly enjoyed the conversations that Governor Baldacci and I have had. I’m looking forward to continuing to work together," said the premier. "This begins a new era for New Brunswick working together with Maine."

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Premier Graham and Governor Baldacci in the Premier's office in New Brunswick