Energy Mirror

Posted April 01, 2009, at 6:08 p.m.

A look across the border into New Brunswick is a way for Maine to look into a mirror, showing the state where it is failing in seizing the new energy realities.

Joe Barnes, an energy specialist at Rice University’s Baker Institute in Texas, spoke earlier this month at the University of New Brunswick in St. John and revealed some dark truths about the U.S. “We have a NIMBY problem in the United States. It’s extremely difficult to build a new refinery and the same goes for [LNG] regasification plants,” he said. Mr. Barnes also said New Brunswick’s target market for energy exportation should be New England, “because we’re pretty confident they’re not going to build a nuclear plant in New England and you can be pretty confident they’re not going to build an LNG terminal, either.”

He’s right. New England has not been a friendly place for industrial-size energy generation. Even alternative energy proposals, such as the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound which would site wind turbines on towers offshore, are the darlings of many green-thinking people in concept, but not if they have to look at the towers from their multi-million dollar homes. And LNG proposals have been fought in Maine’s southern coast, midcoast and Down East coast.

The opposition makes some sense. We value our traditional New England village centers and don’t relish the thought of an industrial behemoth squatting just out of town, like Maine Yankee did in Wiscasset.

We also value access to our coast, and we protect the traditional uses of the inland waters, such as lobstering.

But Maine would do well to think about capitalizing on the few advantages that come with its geography, and one of them is the potential for importing fuel such as LNG (it already imports significant amounts of oil through Portland and Searsport). Another potential that comes with geography is tidal power. A lot of research must be done, but Maine’s 3,000-mile-plus coastline, with its peninsulas and estuaries and its extreme tides, is well-suited for developing such an energy source. And, of course, wind power is a natural match for Maine.

Gov. Baldacci has been an advocate for LNG importation and wind power, when developed responsibly, as well as for tapping the potential to use our ample supply of wood for heating homes and commercial buildings. He should work to persuade a sometimes wary public to seize these opportunities.

Mr. Barnes told the St. John students that New Brunswick “can be a nice hub to supply energy to New England.” New Brunswick has a nuclear plant that is being rebuilt, an oil refinery and plans for an LNG terminal. Irving Oil is proposing a plant in the province that would use wind power and natural gas to generate 15,000 megawatts of electricity to export to New England.

Maine must decide whether it is content to be a spoke, importing energy from New Brunswick and Quebec, or whether it wants to compete with our Canadian neighbors — or join with them — in selling energy to the more populous states to our south.

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