Exclusive interview

By Ramona Du Houx

August 27, 2010

Maine’s Governor John E.Baldacci in his Augusta office. photo by Ramona du Houx

Since you’ve been in office the state has developed and has begun to implement a comprehensive energy plan, which your director of the Office of Energy and Security, John Kerry, says will take the state 50 years into the future — to energy independence from fossil fuels. How is this connected with your work with the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers? Why is it important to work regionally on energy issues?

“Working regionally is one way that we have been able to progress the state’s energy goals.

“Maine is a part of the Northeast region of America, including Canadian provinces in Eastern Canada. When you look at it on the map, that’s access to 55 million people; it’s huge. It’s not a long extension line from the energy resources to the major population hubs on the East Coast. Maine by itself can’t supply all those needs, but Maine certainly can be a leader with our offshore and onshore wind technologies, our expertise, and other renewable energy resources. We can also lead by establishing interconnections to the Eastern Canadian provinces, collecting their electrical energy with ours to feed to the Northeastern markets.

“That’s why energy issues are important in the region. We are trying to make Maine the beachhead, with best practices established in these energy fields, with research conducted at the University of Maine and the Ocean Energy Institute.

“Others can talk about doing things; Maine is where it is happening.

“We have the largest wind farms in New England and are continuing to develop offshore and onshore wind sites. Our offshore wind test sites will be up and running next year. We are working with the federal government to get more support and the time for the permitting of offshore shortened.”

Last year, the New England Governors’ Renewable Energy Blueprint was signed. The Blueprint, was largely based on a study conducted by ISO-New England, which concluded that the region’s untapped, renewable resources could not easily be developed without coordination between the states on siting of electrical transmission. How are the Blueprint plans progressing? What challenges does the group face?

“The Blueprint identified strategies to speed regional development of renewable energy and the work to get that energy to market. The plan calls for up to a third of the region’s electric power to come from wind by 2030. As long as these regional leaders continue to feed into the Blueprint for what is good for the New England states and Eastern Canadian provinces, we can be more successful than not.

“This year Maine signed a Memorandum of Understanding on tidal energy with Premier Dexter of Nova Scotia, on offshore energy research. There is a huge development in Eastport with the Portland-based Ocean Renewable Power Company. We can learn from each other and share our experiences with each other.

“We are working collectively as a region. It’s important that we are in sync, especially with the issues surrounding Hydro-Québec and New Brunswick’s nuclear plans.

“Working against us are individual interests within the region but more so from the Midwest. The Midwest is proposing coal and other energy developments to export electric energy from their region. They say that they won’t have the same problems Cape Wind [an offshore wind development planed for Massachusetts] has had, and they want an extension line for their power, cutting off Maine and the New England states.

“We’re talking probably about over $100 billon in taxpayer dollars going to the Midwest. It would negate all our energy projects, switching them off. Professor Dagher’s work at the University of Maine, the DeepCwind Consortium’s work, the regional work — all of it would be mothballed. That’s not in anyone’s interest.

“That’s really what I see in front of us as the major challenges to what would really be a benefit to Maine’s energy and economic future.”

The Blueprint calls for a state-federal partnership in which the federal government uses regional plans as guidance for interconnection-wide analysis and federally funded renewable-energy infrastructure development. Do you think the federal government will abide by the Blueprint?

“People in Washington, DC have been very supportive and helpful. What I’ve told the president on down is, if other states want to develop their own energy sources in their region, that’s their prerogative. We’ve come to an agreement in our region — with our Blueprint, which we want honored by the regulatory and environmental protection agencies of the federal government.”

When will the electricity transmission line sites be designated by the federal government?

“The various public utilities commissions from the New England states are working on this with the Federal Regulatory Commission and submitting the necessary paperwork. The commissions are having discussions, so that’s moving forward. The congressional delegation is hard at work on this. Our senators are key, and our House members have been very supportive. The congressional delegations from the other northeastern states are also working towards this goal.

“The federal government is aware of our efforts. Energy Secretary Chu came and was impressed by the work being conducted at the University of Maine. Invitations are out to other members of the cabinet to visit. It’s still a work in progress.”

Would you consider energy issues the biggest breakthrough you’ve been a part of, working with these leaders?

“I think so. Five of the states have renewable portfolio standards. Vermont doesn’t have an RPS but recognizes certain renewable resources. This really could empower the region economically to benefit all our futures.”

These leaders have different political ideologies, but you have all managed to find common ground for the region. How are you able to work together?

“It’s pretty amazing. There are three Democratic governors and three Republican governors from the region, and a group of Canadian premiers who have also been at odds on other issues. On the issue of energy, for our region, we all have managed to work together to establish our energy Blueprint. We realize that we are stronger together. Working together, Washington, DC and Ottawa will take note; that doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything, but it does give us better opportunities and better chances.”

Do you think this regional approach to delivering electricity could be a blueprint for other regions?

“I think it could be. It reinforces the fact that one size doesn’t fit all. It reminds me of when I was in Congress working on dairy issues. The dairy industry was established in different regions, the Northeast, Southwest, West, and upper Midwest. I was on the committee for eight years; we had the New England Dairy Compact agreement amongst New England states to see how we could help dairy for our region. We were successful on many fronts. No federal dollars were spent. It was an agreement from the producers, suppliers, and the dairy industry itself.

“Regional electricity markets and transmission networks already exist — as they do here in the Northeast. Why reinvent the wheel? Electrical systems will need to be upgraded, because there will be more demand for electricity as we reduce our oil dependency. Electric cars, geothermal, heat pumps, solar, wind — any energy source that adds to our electrical portfolio will need strong transmission lines with a beefed-up grid to get the electricity to market. The president is working hard at this. A good way to do it would be on a regional basis.

“Established, independent, electricity regional markets, using renewable, sustainable energy, may be the strongest way to bring electricity to every region. That way it’s not a national solution, and you are decentralizing the focus and the power. It enhances the reliability of the system and our national security. If you’re down in one place, you’re not down in all of them. It would help develop local and regional economies, while protecting the environment and national security. It’s a good model.”

Do you think whoever is your successor will continue to work with these regional leaders to progress Maine’s clean-energy future?

“We’ve laid the foundation for the interconnection and the collaboration. That’s the course where businesses and the University of Maine are focused. Right now we have the national government supporting those efforts, which will need ongoing support. Maine has to work in its interests and continue to be a part of that collaboration. Anyone who goes to Washington, DC with the idea of getting something done that will just benefit Maine alone will have 49 other states working against them. That’s not how you get things accomplished.

“Maine has a tremendous future as a leader in the emerging clean-energy economy. Energy is not the entire answer to what our economy needs, but it is a bright light at the end of the tunnel.”

Since 2006, Maine’s renewable energy standard mandates that 40 percent must come from renewable energy sources by 2017— 40 percent. In addition there are three mandates for wind-energy development in Maine:

  1.  At least 2,000 MW of installed capacity by 2015

  2.  At least 3,000 MW of installed capacity by 2020, of which there is a potential to produce 300 MW from facilities located in coastal waters or offshore

  3.  At least 8,000 MW of installed capacity by 2030, of which 5,000 MW should be from facilities in coastal waters or offshore

The first two goals were established in April 2008 (LD 2283), and the third was established in April 2010 (LD 1810). To be able to monitor that progress every year, electric utility companies must show they are relying on a greater percent of renewable energy.