Washington County has a history with energy projects. You might call it a boom-and-bust cycle of promises and dashed hopes. The Passamaquoddy Tidal Power Development Project was one of the earliest and most serious joint energy initiatives between New Brunswick and Maine in our modern era. Today, New Brunswick has capitalized on the demand for energy, with new energy infrastructure on-line and on the drawing boards. Now it is Washington County’s turn to use our location and natural resources to propel our economy into the 21st century.
This past week, a group of people from Washington County, including elected officials, testified in Augusta at a public hearing before the Committee on Maine’s Energy Future. LD 1201, An Act Regarding Energy Independence, promotes energy efficiency and contemplates another cooperative effort between Maine and New Brunswick that would connect Maine to New Brunswick’s emerging energy hub by way of creating a transmission corridor along Interstate 95 for electricity, natural gas, oil and telecommunications. It is part of a joint energy initiative that was recently announced by Gov. John Baldacci, New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham, Irving Oil Corp. and Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. as the Northeast energy corridor.
The New Brunswick Energy Hub concept is detailed in a special report titled the “Benefits Blueprint” touted by Greg Thompson, a member of New Brunswick’s parliament, Premier Graham and Irving Oil Corp. as an economic prosperity plan, creating 33,000 new jobs and $44 billion of new revenue for the province’s economy from various energy development projects.
Interestingly, Thompson, while championing New Brunswick’s Energy Hub concept that includes a liquefied natural gas import terminal in Saint John owned by Irving Oil and Repsol, is opposing the Washington County LNG projects that are part of Maine’s own emerging clean energy hub being developed in Washington and Aroostook counties.
LD 1201 has many good points and Gov. Baldacci should be recognized for his efforts on energy efficiency, his support for LNG projects in Washington County and for the strong leadership he demonstrated when he told our Canadian neighbors these projects are critically important to Washington County and to the rest of Maine in his recent State of the State address.
And we trust that the governor will take a cautious approach to the development of any corridor with New Brunswick. The unintended consequences from such an initiative could hurt the energy projects being developed in Washington County that will provide thousands of new jobs for Mainers both during construction and in operation.
To further that point, former State Economist Charlie Colgan, in his recent forecast on Maine’s economy, said that the next few years in Maine’s economy does not look good and could even get worse. The only real bright spots he noted were the nearly 6,000 jobs that would be created by LNG projects in Washington County and the large wind project proposed in Aroostook County.
The questions that need to be asked are: By bringing New Brunswick energy through Maine to New England, will we export the jobs we are creating in Maine’s emerging energy hub to New Brunswick and import New Brunswick’s energy commodities? Why wouldn’t Maine want the opportunity to create the same jobs in Maine as New Brunswick’s plan contemplates? Why wouldn’t we want to construct and operate our own natural-gas-fired power plants in Maine and provide our own base load of electricity to support Maine’s renewable wind energy projects?
If the energy corridor is truly a cooperative effort between Maine and New Brunswick as it’s being touted, and the initiative does move forward as part of LD 1201, there should be provisions to ensure that the Canadian and New Brunswick governments support Maine’s interest in developing the LNG projects in Passamaquoddy Bay and that these projects have the same rights to access the Northeast energy corridor to transmit their natural gas.
Furthermore, in keeping with the cooperative spirit of the past that brought Maine and New Brunswick people together to bring forward the Quoddy Bay tidal project, any energy corridor created linking Maine to New Brunswick should also allow Maine companies equal opportunity to use the corridor.
In these difficult times, Maine can’t afford to lose the jobs created by the energy projects being developed in Washington and Aroostook counties. Our energy future as well as the future growth of our economy is at stake and the decisions made around this legislation will be critical to protecting existing and future jobs in Maine.
Christopher M. Gardner is chairman of the Washington County commissioners.