Closed door at the end of energy corridor

Posted May 21, 2009, at 9:12 p.m.

In the May 16 editorial “Energy Access Worries,” the Bangor Daily News got it right when it wrote “second place is as good as last in these sorts of considerations.”

Those of us who are part of the Maine Jobs First coalition couldn’t agree more, especially during these troubling economic times when some of our state’s policy leaders are actually considering a proposal that would export new jobs to Canada by developing an “energy corridor” through Maine.

This energy corridor would essentially carry Canadian-produced energy to lucrative markets in southern New England states, diminishing the value and need for proposed energy projects right here in Maine. These energy projects in Maine include potential offshore wind and tidal power proposals and the development of liquefied natural gas terminals in Washington County, where the current economic crisis felt in other parts of the state pales in comparison.

Washington County has been plagued for more than 30 years with an economic malaise that includes job losses, poverty and a dwindling, aging population. Unemployment has reached 13.9 percent, and that’s before Washington County’s largest employer — the Domtar mill in Baileyville — closed its doors, putting more than 300 people out of work.

Washington County has a poverty rate higher than any other county in Maine. Median household incomes and home values in Washington County were roughly 29 percent lower in 2007 than the statewide average. Washington County also leads in childhood poverty — near 29 percent of its children are living below the poverty line.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Because of its unique geographical location and available work force, Washington County also is poised to become a thriving and sustainable energy hub for Maine that could create hundreds of long-term, well-paying jobs that would still be around long after the construction of these facilities is completed.

The province of New Brunswick certainly understands the benefits of creating its own energy hub. According to the New Brunswick government, energy projects being considered or constructed in the province included a liquefied natural gas terminal and pipeline; a refurbishment of the Point Lepreau nuclear power facility; the potential construction of a second nuclear power facility and a second oil refinery. This $19 billion investment was estimated to create $44 billion as the result of direct, indirect and induced spending related to the construction of these facilities.

Combined, New Brunswick’s energy projects are estimated to create 33,000 new jobs and generate an additional $14.2 billion in total tax revenue for the province over a 10-year period.

Imagine if this were happening in Washington County.

A 2005 report from a task force led by David Flanagan points out that one of the most promising sectors for Washington County’s economy is the potential to help meet the nation’s growing energy needs. “Washington County will benefit directly from the construction and operating jobs and the tax revenues, and possibly reduced energy costs such new development can bring,” the report states.

In fact, an economic analysis of just one of the energy projects being proposed in Washington County shows that an $800 million investment in construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal could create nearly 1,000 jobs during the peak of its construction and create between 120 and 150 new, permanent jobs in Washington County.

Despite overwhelming support from people in Washington County, the biggest threat facing this LNG project is coming from the other side of the border, where Irving Oil Co. and its partners are putting the finishing touches on their own LNG facility.

It’s not hard to understand why the Canadians don’t want competition, but it’s ridiculous to think that we would then allow them to use our state as a delivery platform so they can sell their energy to business and residents in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

When considering this energy corridor, we must ask ourselves what’s in it for Maine, other than some relatively short-term construction jobs, which while important, pale to near insignificance when examined against the longer-term possibilities.

New Brunswick has done an enviable job of creating an energy hub to address their increasing energy demands and provide a measure of self-reliance in today’s tumultuous energy marketplace.

There is no good reason why Maine should not be able to do the same thing, and keep all the benefits, not just the scraps. After all, in this debate being second is exactly like being last.

John Hanson is the executive director of the Maine State Building and Construction Trades Council and a member of Maine Jobs First (www.mainejobsfirst.com).

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