Tue, Sep 16, 2014 ●
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Global Matters: When it comes to energy, east is east and west is west

Opinion

Global Matters: When it comes to energy, east is east and west is west

I was delighted to read recently that governors of U.S. border states and premiers of neighboring Canadian provinces had convened and pronounced themselves committed to cooperation on both energy development and transmission.

The governors noted that huge energy potential exists in Canada and that the development of an "energy corridor" running from Canada, the source of the energy, into the United States and ultimately to consumers in more populous areas would create economic opportunity in both countries.

Moreover, the premiers noted that in addition to traditional natural resources, renewable energy sources and cooperative research and development of new technologies would benefit both Canadians and Americans.

"Heaven forbid we all test the same technologies," one of the premiers said, extolling the potential for joint R&D. "We ought to be sharing information and peering over our respective fences."

Yes, it was one of those good-news stories, where neighbors with complementary resources and synergistic comparative advantages realize there's more to be gained by working together than by creating obstacles.

I would have felt better about the whole thing, however, if the governors in question were from New England and the premiers were from Atlantic Canada. In fact, it was at the Western Governors Association annual conference that governors from the likes of Idaho and Montana and premiers from Alberta, Saskatchewan and neighboring states and provinces met and talked up the potential for greater energy production, connectivity and cooperation.

Here in our corner of the continent, regrettably, we can't seem to get out of our own way.

Truth be known, it's not the governors or the premiers of our region that are holding things up. In fact, Gov. John Baldacci and Premier Shawn Graham of New Brunswick have been leaders in developing the concept of an energy corridor, beginning across the border in Canada and delivering energy not only to Maine but to more populous areas of New England, as well.

Of course, not everyone sees the benefit of an energy corridor. Concerns expressed in Maine range from the assertion that energy development in Canada, coupled with distribution across Maine, would create jobs only in Canada, to the notion that the corridor itself would make it less likely for renewable projects to be developed in Maine.

Proponents of the corridor, however, note that Maine would receive substantial lease payments for the land to be contributed, with such payments going to fund not only conservation, but research into renewable energy. Nor would access to new transmission lines (which are contemplated to be buried underground) be limited to the project developers themselves – other energy providers in the region would be able to send their energy along the lines, too.

Predictably, faced with the prospect of investors considering a multi-billion dollar, transformative investment in our state, the Legislature has deemed it best to – study the potential impact the corridor. The result is, obviously, that the corridor, if it proceeds at all, will be delayed, as will the potential economic benefits, increased investment in research and so on.

Now, we all know that ill-considered development is no bargain, and that Maine's quality of life and natural beauty are among its most precious assets. Still, one can't help but wonder, given these unusually difficult economic times, whether willing investors and the availability of federal stimulus money – along with a governor and a premier interested in working together – might not have provided just the tonic Maine needs to reduce the costs of doing business here.

Out west, after all, the governors and premiers are joining hands and working hard to bring energy from Alberta's oil sands through the western states to Port Arthur, Texas, and beyond. Concerns over the environmental impact of extracting oil from Alberta's oil sands remain, but U.S. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu recently noted that technology can reduce these concerns. Moreover, Alberta's multi-billion dollar commitment to carbon "capture and storage," plus new and strict limits on large-producer emissions, are likely to ameliorate adverse conditions.

All in all, it seems likely that the western states and provinces know a good thing when they see it, and will enjoy economic growth while enhancing continental energy security.

Here in Maine, of course, projects and proposals that promise economic growth, energy security, cross-border research and development and so on are regarded with considerable skepticism. Therefore, confronted as we are with virtually unprecedented economic challenges, rising unemployment and burgeoning deficits and in need of game-changing, transformational investment, let us boldly go forth and study the issue into oblivion.

Dirigo? I think not.