Maine and New Brunswick looking to become an energy hub

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Premier Shawn Graham of N.B., Governor Baldacci, Jack Keir of N.B. and Dick Davis answer questioning reporters about energy policies.

Article & photos by Ramona du Houx

Premier Shawn Graham visited the state last February, further solidifying the new relationship with New Brunswick that Governor John Baldacci initiated after the Premier won his election. The leaders discussed areas where their partnership continues to open doors wider to benefit both regions. The topic that took center stage at the press conference at the Capitol was "energy."

"New Brunswick is looking for electricity and energy markets to tap into. Access to those markets is critical," said Graham. "Maine is a key player in the development of our policies. We always want to make sure we have the best affordable and secure energy sources for our citizens. You share the same goal here in your state."

Electricity costs and the rising cost of distribution due to fuel prices are dramatically hurting businesses. As long as the state remains in ISO New England and has to contribute to its power grid, consumers and businesses in Maine pay more for energy. While the consortium is advantageous to other New England states it takes advantage of Maine’s ability to produce surplus energy.

"As it stands today, we are stuck in a system that takes — and makes — money from Maine to pay for poor decisions made in other states. Our electricity prices are unnecessarily high, and it puts real stress on working-class families, our manufacturing, and business development. By working with New Brunswick, we can develop an alternative to our current predicament, which will save our people money and make our businesses more competitive," said Baldacci.

A Public Utilities Commission report, which came out of the memorandum of understanding signed by Graham and Baldacci last year, says the organization of the region’s grid is flawed. Maine could benefit from any of three alternatives, including outright withdrawal, in-place changes, or new partnerships. Maine is considering a plan to ease increases in the cost of pulling away from the ISO New England power grid and forming closer ties with Atlantic Canada to generate and distribute power.

New Brunswick and Maine are each energy-surplus regions.

"Together, Premier Graham and I have begun to lay the groundwork for a new energy future. Maine and New Brunswick are blessed with great potential for development of renewable energy resources," said the governor.

Maine is looking at renewable production, expanded wind generation, tidal power, and wood-to-energy initiatives. New Brunswick is researching tidal and additional wind-energy production. Another nuclear reactor at Point Lepreau, which Graham extolled as "clean energy" would create about 4,000 jobs during construction and 500 skilled positions to operate the facility.

"In Maine we’re driven by our renewable portfolio. We’re driven by it because of the opportunity with the resources we have to create economic opportunities and stimulate the economy. With this partnership I’m looking forward to lowering our electricity rates, working with renewable energies, and reducing our greenhouse-gas emissions. Power rates should decrease when we join forces in producing and shipping power south," said the governor.ykurt.jpg (33267 bytes)

"It’s a win-win situation as we move forward with the memorandum," said the premier.

In February of 2007 the two leaders signed a memorandum of understanding which began the process of examining the pros and cons of energy production and transmission between New Brunswick and Maine.

Photo: Kurt Adams tells reporters how beneficial it will be working with Premier Graham to lower electricity rates and export energy.

Late last year a second major transmission line was completed between the two areas, increasing the north-south energy transmission flow. Maine still has $2 billion in transmission projects on the drawing board, which will further open the route south. The state needs to support this projected increased transmission capacity to carry the energy produced in Maine and New Brunswick south to the states that would buy it.

"It’s a huge opportunity. The reliability of our grids will position us well," said Jack Keir, New Brunswick’s energy minister. "One of the great gains we could have here is looking at increasing the size of both our grids, as we balance all these energy needs moving forward with the memorandum. We’re looking to become the energy hub of the Eastern Seaboard."

Maine is the best location in New England for wind and tidal power projects. Maine has the most forests of all New England states.

"Maine and New Brunswick are blessed by their location," said Kurt Adams, a chairman of Maine’s Public Utility’s Commission. "The new sources of energy that we need to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, to provide better pricing for our energy, and help curb climate change are located in abundance in Maine and New Brunswick. The Northeastern United States does not have these resources in abundance. A partnership that brings these resources to market in a way that works for the provinces and the state will lower rates, provide more environmental benefits in the production industry, and it will be a great opportunity for the region to become an energy exporter."

Maine and New Brunswick want to be known as environmental stewards and producers of environmentally friendly energy.