The 33rd Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers in St. John, New Brunswick

Governor John Baldacci, co-chair of the conference with Premier Shawn Graham, of NB. Photo by Ramona du Houx
October 19, 2009
By Ramona du Houx

The potential to grow Maine’s economy by exporting energy to the New England market could put Maine on the map. Every New England state and the Eastern Canadian provinces have clean-energy projects underway, with some already on line. Maine is a regional leader in wind power, with 95 percent of New England’s installed wind power based here. Operations that are on line or under construction can produce 300 megawatts of power, in Maine. Another 450 megawatts worth of generation is in the planning stages.“I believe the future of Maine’s economic growth is in clean-energy technologies, their production and transmission,” said the governor in an exclusive interview focused on energy issues and the 33rd Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers in St. John, New Brunswick.

“The president, through his stimulus package, made available to the states anywhere from eight to ten billion dollars for transmission upgrades. That’s significant for Maine’s future and economic development for our region. Maine’s location is a huge resource for the Boston and New York energy markets; we could be the center of that,” said the governor.

Maine would be the center if transmission energy corridors are approved by the Legislature. They would fully connect the region, integrating Maine’s clean-energy resources to the grid with hydropower from Quebec.

“Eastern Canada has a much bigger energy demand for electricity in the winter than we do, because they heat with electricity. We need their power in the summertime, because we use more air conditioners. Their power demands fit well with our power demands. So we could do this in an integrated way,” said Baldacci.

“Establishing these transmission lines out to markets for our wind- tidal- solar- and wood-power producers is essential. In Aroostook County 800 megawatts of wind electricity is not being fully realized because we don’t have the transmission infrastructure to bring it to market. The biggest problem we face is not the construction of all these renewable-energy projects; it’s connecting them to the grid. To do that we need transmission lines that could run along corridors of state land. Those lines represent economic development in Maine. They mean construction jobs, lower rates for electricity, and additional revenue from leasing state land, so we can make other critical investments.”

Some of those investments would help homeowners weatherize their residences. With 80 percent of homes in Maine still dependent upon oil, sealing out the cold could save over 30 percent in heating costs. That’s substantial.

But there is a major obstacle the region has to defeat.

“The Midwestern governor’s have been aggressively, efficiently, and coordinately working together, lobbying Washington, DC. They are trying to build windmills, so they can export that energy on a D.C. transmission line from the Midwest to the Northeast. If they do that with their wind power, it means our wind power isn’t necessary.

“We had ISO New England look at New England and the Eastern Canadian Provinces, and they estimated the cost for our region to build the transmission infrastructure would be from $9 billion to $20 billion. The Midwestern transmission line would cost $80 billion to $160 billion. The cost difference is staggering.

“Plus the Midwestern power relies on coal-fired plants during the times the wind won’t be getting enough energy to meet needs. Our baseline power would be hydroelectric, partnering with Quebec Hydro, and wind.

“It’s wonderful that the Midwest wants to develop wind power; we’re saying they should just serve the Midwest and let the Northeastern states and Eastern Canadian provinces serve the electrical markets from Boston to New York. Let us have the opportunity to develop sustainable, renewable domestic energy resources here. So we will be able to keep our power security more regional. That makes more sense than having to depend on somebody else in some other part of the country.

“We as a region understand that economic prosperity for our people is directly connected to the growth of a clean-energy economy. Getting our renewable energy to the grid is essential. We know we have to act now,” concluded Baldacci.

An action plan is underway with the New England Governors’ Renewable Energy Blueprint, which is a state-by-state analysis of the laws and conditions for clean-energy growth in each state. The report identifies opportunities to coordinate and synchronize the reviews of possible sites and resource procurement across state lines. It also recommends a strong federal partnership to bring the state’s potential clean-energy resources to market.

Governor John Baldacci hosts the New England Regional leaders conference in Bar Harbor, Maine in 2008. Photo by Ramona du Houx
“I’ve already met with the White House. We’ve given them the Renewable Energy Blueprint, which was approved by the Northeastern governors at the conference. The report demonstrates the necessity of partnerships both within our region and with the federal government. If we work together as a region, we will have the best opportunity to determine our own energy future. I’ve already presented it to Chairman Jon Wellinghoff of the Federal Regulatory Commission. We talked extensively about these issues,” said Baldacci.

During the meeting with Wellinghoff, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed. This MOU could help streamline the regulatory process for companies involved in tidal energy projects, in Maine.

Last year, the governor also expedited the process for windmill projects with bipartisan support. Because of this law, in the Renewable Energy Blueprint Maine stands out as the only state in the region to have a six-month regulatory permitting waiting period. The majority of the other New England states take a year for approval.

Still, the threat of a DC line needs to be challenged.

“Our Public Utilities Commission has been in contact with our congressional delegation staff and those from around the region. We’ve been informed that we have our work cut out for us, because the Midwest governors have laid the groundwork for their DC transmission line,” said Baldacci.

The governor described some additional steps that will be taken with meetings in Washington DC, Maine, and New England to progress New England’s energy transmission.

“We need to meet and work with the governors of New England and their congressional delegations. And we need to work with our senators on the language of the climate change bill to make sure our objectives are included.

“Most of all, we need to make sure we are building broader alliances focused on achieving transmission-line approval for the Northeast, so we don’t get left behind. Because all we are doing will be for naught if we end up with the Midwestern DC transmission line.

“The clean-energy economy has great job potential. This is where business will make investments, but they won’t set up their business unless they are comfortable that their product will get to markets. Businesses want to break into the energy field, because they know there are huge opportunities there for them. Building those transmission lines is key. That’s why energy was such a major focal point of the conference.

“The Midwest will try and say, ‘You can’t get your act together to build those transmission lines. You can’t get public support.’ Well, the entire conference succeeded in getting everybody on the same page. We know we’ve got to do it.”

The state has a goal of 2,000 megawatts of wind energy by 2015 and 3,000 megawatts by 2020.

“Maine has the equivalent of 40 nuclear power plants in energy in offshore wind, off the Gulf of Maine. Rhode Island and Massachusetts are also planning offshore wind platforms. We want Maine to be the best in this field. We have the expertise in composite technologies developed at UMaine, which make structures more durable, flexible and lighter. That technology will enable us to build the best wind towers, blades, and platforms.

“We have a cooperation agreement with Norwegian companies, which are currently constructing the first national platform. I’ll be going to Norway to see their progress with Habib Dagher [Director of the composite center at UMaine].

“We’ll leapfrog the competition by joining forces with companies that are the first in the world to build an offshore platform,” said the governor.

The governor’s energy agenda determined this year’s trade mission, which has a specific itinerary focused on progressing renewable energy in Maine. A wind-energy trade show, a tour of a turbine manufacturer, networking receptions, and business matchmaking sessions are all part of the trip to Spain and Germany.

“Our businesses, Cianbro Corp., Reed & Reed, Bath Iron Works, and Sprague Energy will all be there, because it’s a great opportunity to expand their business opportunities.

“Reed & Reed has witnessed continued growth in their company, because they have become the experts in New England, putting up windmills. That started with the Mars Hill project. Our contractors in a wide array of companies in Maine now have the experience needed to build these windmill farms. We have a unique coalition of wind-industry experts. Businesses will want to have our people on teams for projects in other states. And UMaine with the composite center is the leading engine,” said the governor.

UMaine’s AEWC center has expanded product lines for 43 companies; helped start 12 businesses, and improved products for 30 companies.

“With UMaine we will build a Center of Excellence, which will showcase our expertise in wind energy and composites. Then more companies will work with UMaine as they help develop and refine their technologies. It’s a powerhouse — a one-two punch. It will create a tremendous opportunity for businesses to flourish.”

Governor Baldacci and New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham served as co-chairs for the 33rd Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers. It was an intense day with seven sessions, mostly on the clean-energy economy.

“We had a discussion led by George Jacobson on climate change. He had a compelling argument to continue to study climate issues along with energy issues. Climate change will alter renewable energy resources. For example, as the ice caps continue to melt, our rivers aren’t freezing over as they have in the past. This could create more potential for hydropower in the winters, for the turbines can run longer. He warned us to be aware of the changes global warming will have on our energy sources. We will need to know how to adjust and to make those changes work to our advantage.

“Dick Barringer made a presentation on conservation initiatives, which gave us the understanding that we need to work more regionally on conservation. The report was praised, and participants agreed to continue to work with Dick on quality-of-life issues.

“We also discussed how we are dealing with the H1N1 pandemic flu. We wanted to get a briefing, so will know how we can best work together when an outbreak happens, which appears likely.

“They packed a lot into the conference. It was focused and serious. The people of New Brunswick were wonderful and extended themselves to us all.

“We can reduce our dependency on foreign oil, improve our environment, and help to address climate change by working together. Maine has a bright future as a clean energy exporter.”