77fbdfdfd2b2c74e-govconference3Premier Shawn Granham of NB Co-Chaired the NEG?ECP conference with Governor John Baldacci. The meeting’s leaders took action on major issues, built stronger partnerships and united to combat global warming. Photo by Ramona du Houx

October/November 2008

Article by Ramona du Houx

Just who won the golf game at the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers, no one knows. Somewhere along the way they stopped keeping score on the Bar Harbor golf course. That reflects the high level of cooperation and comradeship the participants had during the annual meeting, chaired by Maine’s Governor Baldacci and co-chaired by Premier Shawn Graham of New Brunswick. (Photo right of Gov. Baldacci, leading the conference) By the end of the conference, the participants had no doubts that the region is stronger for all its citizens with the respective leaders cooperating and taking action collectively to achieve shared goals.

After presentations by some of the region’s leading experts on energy, transportation, demographics, the environment, and economic development, discussions looking for solutions took place. Eight resolutions pertaining to these issues were adopted.

Governor Baldacci praised the spirit of cooperation that characterized the 32nd annual conference. “We came together in a spirit of cooperation, had frank discussions about our shared goals, opportunities, and challenges. We signed eight resolutions and built momentum that will carry our region forward.”

Premier Graham was also encouraged by the level of cooperation, “Governor Baldacci and I are not just respective colleagues, we’re close friends. He’s a tremendous individual for this state. We’ve worked cooperatively together on a number of initiatives which started with the memorandums of understanding on electricity and education, where we share resources. This relationship was even more evident with the recent flood that crossed our borders. Our resources worked cooperatively on the operations ensuring the safety of our people. It’s this kind of cooperation between the state of Maine and New Brunswick that shows there is more that unites us than divides us. We have a shared history of working together, and Gov. Baldacci and I are leading by example with that relationship.”

Karen Mills, of the venture capitalist group MMP, gave a presentation about how an innovative economy which is growing in Maine can spark needed investments that can help the region. She said, “There is a strong sense of collaboration between our New England states and our Canadian partners. We are discussing important issues in terms of energy, economic development, and transportation, with substance and a high degree of collaboration, looking for win-win solutions.”

Mills believes more meetings should be held by the stakeholders involved, because regional partners need to talk more, like neighbors. {slightly ambiguous: don’t they talk like neighbors?} “When I gave my presentation, I quoted Mike Potter saying, ‘a healthy neighborhood is an important asset in having a strong economy within the states and region.’ We need to work together in order to have a healthy neighborhood. This activity needs to be done on a regular agenda.”

Governor John Baldacci agreed. “It would be beneficial for us to meet more often. We’ve built momentum today that needs to continue.”

Of all the topics discussed, energy, with oil and gas prices skyrocketing, took center stage, because of its immediacy to the economies of all the represented states and provinces. Long-term solutions concerning energy were brought to the table, because it was agreed that New England and the eastern Canadian provinces have to put an end to the region’s dependency on oil.

“The conference is all about uniting different jurisdictions in a common cause. We need to reduce our dependency of foreign oil, increase our energy independence, energy efficiency, and diversity of fuels. We all have the same climate temperatures, and we all have the same economic interest. We live in a global marketplace, and we have a regional market interdependency in energy,” said John Kerry of the Governor’s Office of Energy Independence and Security. “Energy is now connected to everything we do. All the presentations showed that energy has a major role in transportation, economic development, and the environment. Working collaboratively on the energy issue is key for our future prosperity.”

According to Kerry one of the major reasons this conference was created 32 years ago was the energy crisis of the late 1970s. This leadership intends to take action for the safety and security of the region.

Improving electricity —

Maine suffers with high electricity rates because the state has to be part of the Federal Government’s ISO New England electrical transmission power grid. And the state is not able to take full advantage of the electricity it produces. The Maine Public Utilities Commission is analyzing information about the issue, to weigh the pluses and minuses of being part of the ISO electric entity.

“Regionally, we have the potential to become energy self-sufficient, introduce price stability into the electricity market, and benefiting our businesses and families will also allow our economies to grow more quickly,” said Governor Baldacci. “To get there, however, our decisions must be guided by objective economic analysis. Any effort, whether it’s building new generation or new transmission capacity, must benefit our region as a whole.”

New Brunswick built a 58-mile line from Point Lepreau to the Maine border in 2006, but currently there is insufficient transmission capacity in Maine to accept that electrical flow. A new proposal calls for construction of a 345,000-volt line from central to northern Maine that would improve the flow of electricity, by fully connecting northern Maine and New Brunswick to the New England power grid. The Federal Regulatory Commission is reviewing the proposal.

Once completed, 800 megawatts of power from proposed wind-turbine projects in northern Maine could be transmitted to New Brunswick, and electricity could flow into New England from Canadian hydroelectric power.

The region has significant renewable energy portfolios that can cut into greenhouse gas emissions, said Ed Martin, chief operating officer of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. “What we do not yet have is the transmission infrastructure to move it. We must unite under the banner of infrastructure development.”

“New England and Eastern Canada are uniquely positioned to take advantage of tremendous wind, hydro, biofuels, and tidal power to meet our electricity needs. But acting alone, none of us can truly reach our potential,” said Governor Baldacci. “We must develop new transmission capacity that serves both generation projects in New England and improves the capacity to move renewable, green power from Canada into the United States.”

Quebec Premier Jean Charest was hopeful that as neighbors with shared interests, answers will be found to the transmission question. “Canadian renewable power is reliable; we have excess energy. Here we are neighbors and friends. We will work out solutions. What could be more reliable,” he said.

Premier Graham agreed, “In New Brunswick we have safe, secure, reliable sources of energy, and we are looking at new options. I was encouraged to see from the different systems operations how they are working collectively on ways to meet the challenges of transmission. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, but we’ve made great progress as a region. The missing link is the transmission capacity.”

“In Massachusetts we plan to be able to meet almost all our energy needs. Much of our growth demands can be met through efficiencies and the alternative green industry that we are trying to cultivate,” said Governor Deval Patrick.(photo right) “We want to work together as a group on solving transmission issues. We are committed to do that.”

More on curbing greenhouse gasses —

The renewable energy portfolio for the region was impressive. All participates at the conference confirmed their intent to work together to curb greenhouse gasses.

“The California greenhouse gas emission standards are the direction in which we in Canada all wish to go,” said Quebec Premier Charest. The view was echoed by all the governors of the New England states.

Improving transportation —

On transportation issues, the leaders called for further studies into changing truck weight limits, so these are unified and better coordination among environmental and transportation agencies, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase fuel efficiency. Vermont and Maine suffer from an antiquated federal law that forces trucks to use side and state roads instead of the Interstate Highway, because of the weight limits.

“It’s a major safety issue,” said Baldacci. The conference completed a resolution that takes action on this issue.

Glen Weisbrod of Economic Development Research Group told the conference about possible improvement projects that could make it easier for vehicles and goods to move throughout the region, like an east-west highway system and improved rail.

“We did a multi-state, multi-province effort to look at what types of transportation investments could help stimulate economic activity along the northeast border with Eastern Canadian provinces and the northern Northeast states,” said David Cole, Maine’s commissioner of the Department of Transportation. “The study shows that with more investments in transportation needs, economic growth will happen. And as you endeavor to make the transportation system cost effective and more of an economic stimulus, you add the environmental benefit of reducing greenhouse gasses. Our current transportation system is a third of our carbon footprint. Maine is the center of the states and provinces represented at this conference. In some ways it’s a hollow center, because of the lack of transportation infrastructure. If you are going to tackle issues related to climate change, compete economically in the world as a region, we have to offer our suppliers and businesses cost-effective ways of getting products to market in the region and out into the global marketplace. It’s going to take a collaborative effort to efficiently link our rail, our roads, and shipping, making it cost effective for everyone. It’s clearly the road to economic development.”

At the end of the conference, it was clear the New England governors and Eastern Canadian premiers were united in their efforts to improve the region for their citizens. Although there are differences, the focus of the leaders on issues larger than the region itself helped bring consensus on a challenging agenda.

“It was a strong conference; we’re working together as a region, which gives us the strength we need to continue to be successful,” said Baldacci.

The resolutions signed were: Resolution Concerning the NEG/ECP Transportation Air Quality Action Plan; Resolution Concerning the Economic and Social Impacts of Demographic Challenges; Resolution Concerning Energy Efficiency; Resolution Concerning Energy; Resolution Concerning the International Appalachian Trail; Resolution Concerning Climate Change Adaptation; Resolution Regarding Cooperation and Collaboration on Transportation and Economic Development; and Resolution Concerning the Initiative for Truck Weight Harmonization.

Also attending the conference were Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell, New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri, Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald, and Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams. Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz had to send a representative.