Maine, N.B. leaders eye energy corridor

Posted March 25, 2009, at 11:12 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. John Baldacci and New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham on Wednesday reaffirmed their interest in cooperating regionally on energy development and transmission.

Their cross-border discussions date to February 2007 when the two leaders signed a broad memorandum of understanding pledging to collaborate.

Now, the governor and premier have focused on preliminary work to explore the creation of a Northeast energy corridor that might carry multiple energy lines and cables from the province into Maine.

“We have a chance to become the driving force in a new energy future,” Baldacci said during back-to-back news conferences with Graham.

Joining them at their news conference in Augusta was the director of business development for Irving Oil, Jeff Matthews, who said his company has already been studying the feasibility of such a corridor for a year.

Matthews declined to say how much money Irving was committing to the study or to specify a timeline beyond noting that an update is anticipated when New England governors and eastern Canadian premiers meet in September in Saint John.

“We’ll have a better sense as we continue along in our feasibility work and our preliminary engineering and planning process,” he said. “It’s still a bit premature.”

But Matthews, citing statements by Baldacci and Graham, said the company was able to go forward with a study “knowing that they support it.”

Graham suggested Maine and New Brunswick could effectively establish “the hub of an international energy region that stretches from Newfoundland and Labrador to Connecticut and Rhode Island.”

The news conferences came two weeks after Baldacci outlined an agreement with Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. to explore the potential use of the right-of-way that exists along Maine interstates and roads for new underground transmission lines.

The proposed Northeast corridor project could transport electricity, petroleum products and natural gas with transmission lines, pipelines and related facilities grouped together to minimize environmental impact, officials said.

A first phase could include more than 1,000 megawatts of electrical transmission capacity — in comparison, the Maine Yankee nuclear power plant was capable of generating 900 megawatts — with a natural gas-fired co-generation plant in Saint John.

“Betting on one form of energy is just too much of a risk,” Matthews said.

Baldacci said establishing a Northeast energy corridor would “connect our power projects to markets in southern New England that are hungry for clean renewable electricity.”

Officials said the project could spur development of new sources of clean energy, such as wind power, especially if a new plant in Saint John powered by natural gas could guarantee base load power when wind turbines were not producing.

Central Maine Power Co., meanwhile, wants to build a 345,000-volt transmission line from Orrington to Newington, N.H.

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both R-Maine, praised Graham and Baldacci’s efforts toward cooperation.

“Maine is well-positioned to contribute renewable energy from wind, water and wood sources, contributing to more stable energy prices with environmentally friendly energy sources,” Collins said in a statement from Washington on Wednesday.

“I am encouraged that today’s announcement of a partnership with New Brunswick to pursue renewable energy can lead to economic development and potentially a reduction of energy bills for Mainers,” Snowe said in a statement. “This is a critical win-win opportunity for the state of Maine and all opportunities must be explored.”

Dave MacLean of the Telegraph-Journal contributed to this report.

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