BANGOR, Maine — Maine could learn plenty from its international neighbors to the north and east when it comes to the ever-growing world of alternative energy. Many state leaders also could benefit by shedding any not-in-my-backyard attitudes about future energy development projects.
Those were the primary messages from a panel of leading Canadian energy executives who participated Wednesday in a conference hosted by the Maine International Trade Center.
Robert Hanf, president of Bangor Hydro-Electric Co., which is owned by a Canadian firm, said the discussion highlighted the importance and urgency of regional planning when it comes to energy.
“Maine is tremendously blessed to be in the center of some very interesting things,” he said, citing initiatives in wind power, tidal energy and other alternative sources of electricity by Canadian firms.
Before the panel discussion, Maine Public Utilities Commission Chair Sharon Reishus delivered an overview of the state’s role in the alternative energy push.
“Wind is really where everyone is focused,” she said. “Trust me, it’s all anyone is talking about.”
Reishus also said the transmission element — that is, how the energy gets from Canadian Maritime provinces to markets in the U.S. — will be crucial for Maine. She did, however, express some concerns about increased federal regulations, which have been discussed by the Obama administration.
“If the feds get involved, it will change the game,” she said.
Each of the three panel members spoke at length about projects that already are under way or that are planned, some of which involve Maine.
Bill Helmer, vice president of Toronto-based Riverbank Power, talked about his company’s plans for an underground hydroelectric pumped storage generation facility in Wiscasset. It’s one of several planned storage facilities throughout the country developed by Riverbank.
Essentially, Helmer explained, water is pumped from lower elevation reservoirs underground to reservoirs at ground level during off-peak electric power times at low costs. Then, during periods of high power demand, the stored water is released through turbines. These systems make money by selling more electricity during hours of peak demand and at the highest price.
Nick DiDomenico, development manager for TransCanada Corp., a Calgary-based company that has a diverse energy portfolio, talked mainly about his firm’s commitment to Maine, a wind farm project on Kibby Mountain in Franklin County.
That project, estimated to cost about $320 million, already is under way and will be completed next year. It will feature 44 turbines exceeding 400 feet in height and will produce enough electricity for 50,000 single-family homes each year.
While explaining the Kibby Mountain project, DiDomenico said one of the biggest challenges came during the permitting process.
“We were basically told ‘build it somewhere else,’” he said. “But we conferred early and often with local people to alleviate most concerns.”
Still, DiDomenico said the not-in-my-backyard philosophy is alive and well in Maine.
John Woods, vice president of Minas Basin Pulp and Power of Nova Scotia, talked about his company’s efforts to harness the continual power of tidal water in the Bay of Fundy. That power would then be transmitted down the Nova Scotia and Maine coastlines toward Boston.
Woods characterized the tidal power project, known as the Fundy Ocean Resource Center for Energy, as “harnessing a hurricane that occurs twice a day.”
With all the energy potential surrounding the state, Maine seems primed to benefit if it can continue to work with Canadian companies.
Gov. John Baldacci already has pledged to make a big push statewide to develop alternative energy projects. Cianbro president Peter Vigue also recently unveiled an ambitious plan to lease 200 miles of state-owned land along Interstate 95 for a high-capacity electricity transmission line.
“I thought it was a very timely discussion. This is information our region needs to know about,” said Candy Guerrette, executive director of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce. “Maine is sitting in the middle of all this energy. It puts into perspective of what oil did to Texas.”