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Baldacci says regional renewable energy battle under way

Posted Sept. 14, 2009, at 11:18 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. John Baldacci said Monday a major topic of today’s meeting of New England governors and Eastern Canadian premiers is an effort by Midwestern governors to seize the initiative on generation and distribution of renewable electricity sources at the expense of the Northeast.

“The Midwestern governors and the region politically is trying to seize a large amount of the stimulus funds in Washington to develop wind power and a DC [direct current] line from the Midwest to the Northeast,” he said in an interview.

He said that if the Midwestern governors were successful, it would “negate” the efforts of the Northeast to develop its own renewable energy generating facilities to meet the electricity needs of the region.

“The proposal from the Midwest has sort of put the fire to the feet of the Northeast,” he said.

With rhetoric that sounds very similar to Baldacci’s, Midwest governors are seeking federal recovery act funds to develop wind farms and construct a high capacity transmission line to carry power from the Midwest to the Northeast markets.

“The Midwest is well-positioned to be a national leader in the promotion of green technologies and green jobs,” said Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, when she was elected chair of the Midwestern Governors Association earlier this year. “Our region is looking to capitalize by creating jobs in a green, sustainable economy.”

The Midwestern group is also getting a boost from Western Governors’ Association that is urging Congress to mandate development of high capacity energy corridors to facilitate the movement of large amounts of electricity across the country.

“We are concerned, however, that a traditional approach to investment and siting will result in lines that are too small to move substantial amounts of power,” the Western Governors’ Association wrote congressional leadership earlier this year. “In fact, there are proposals that have reached a point where siting and investment decisions will lock in the characteristics of the projects at a level almost certainly insufficient for the long term.”

The western states have huge potential capacity to generate electricity from renewable sources from untapped hydro to wind and solar. They also have large coal reserves, and the high capacity lines could be used to move that power to market as well as the power from renewable sources like wind and solar. That potential is complicating an already complex battle over electric transmission systems.

“What we have to do is make our case that it is more expensive to bring power across the country when it is cheaper to make it here,” Baldacci said.

State Energy Office Director John Kerry said both the Midwestern and Western governors organizations are supporting construction of an $80 billion transmission line to bring power from the Midwest grid to New England. He said that cost estimate may be low and does not take into account the actual costs of the generating fa-cilities and the advantages of having generation facilities relatively near to markets.

“We think the cost of facilities are lower here and it will cost significantly less to get that power to Northeast consumers from generation facilities that are here in the Northeast,” he told members of the Legislature’s Commission to Study Energy Infrastructure last week.

Kerry told the panel the study his office has been coordinating will detail a range of options for power generation and transmission. He said electricity loses energy over long transmission lines and that is why electrical generating capacity is often looked at as a regional issue.

“We were told by the congressional delegation to have specific language prepared, with specific proposals with specific metrics and to get that to them,” he said. “We are doing that.”

Also at issue, Baldacci said, are the “green” jobs that will go with the generating facilities. He said Maine and the entire Northeast region has a “huge capacity” to generate electricity using renewable sources such as wind, both offshore and onshore, as well as tidal and solar.

“We are generating some new jobs here in Maine with the wind farms that have been built or are under construction today,” Baldacci said. “And we can build more and we will build more.”

He said other states and provinces in the region are also seeking to develop their renewable power sources to reduce dependence on oil and other fossil fuels and provide jobs.

“We will come out of this meeting with a unified plan for our region,” Baldacci said.

Baldacci is the chairman of the New England Governors’ Conference and co-chair of the Conference of the New England Governors and the Eastern Canadian Premiers.

The group is meeting in St. John, New Brunswick.

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