LNG Long Haul

Posted Oct. 02, 2009, at 6:40 p.m.

Rough waters lie ahead as Maine and New Brunswick work to secure ties to what may emerge as a key fuel in the coming decades, liquefied natural gas, or LNG. Gov. John Baldacci and New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham have developed a friendly working relationship on energy, tourism and other issues, but it appears the two men must agree to disagree on the LNG projects proposed for eastern Washington County.

Gov. Baldacci must continue to strongly assert, to both U.S. federal regulators and Canadian officials, that LNG importation has a future in Maine. Unfortunately, the governor has painted himself into a corner after earlier fights over LNG proposals in Maine.

After the ugly battle in Harpswell in 2004, which resulted in a town vote that blocked development of an LNG importation facility there, Gov. Baldacci pledged that the state would not pursue siting an LNG terminal in any town that voted its opposition to such a project. Shortly after that pledge, the state revealed that a developer of LNG terminals was inquiring about using state-owned Sears Island in Searsport for a facility. Searsport voters, at their annual town meeting in 2004, also voted to oppose LNG anywhere in town.

Three proposals for LNG terminals in eastern Washington County have been made in recent years. Some would argue that since Irving has opened an LNG terminal in Saint John, the race is over for Maine. This is not so.

Maine, because of its cold climate, lack of access to natural gas and heavy reliance on No. 2 oil for home heating, must continue to be aggressive about pursuing new energy technology and fuels. Though electricity generated by wind and tide will provide part of the state’s energy portfolio, LNG may become a dominant fuel for industry and electric generation.

It is unfortunate that Gov. Baldacci promised that no LNG terminal would be built over the objection of local residents. The state’s long-held three-port strategy, which aimed to concentrate maritime transportation in Portland, Searsport and Eastport, was trumped by the governor’s well-intentioned but short-sighted pledge. Premier Graham’s concerns about the safety from LNG tankers passing through Passamaquoddy Bay, expressed in a recent opinion piece in a New Brunswick newspaper, are not without foundation. Other deep-water ports in Maine are probably better suited for LNG terminals.

The next governor must take up Gov. Baldacci’s focus on energy issues and remain open to new and creative solutions to the old problems of heating and lighting our homes and businesses. But the next governor also should work to refine the state’s energy policies to include identifying sites where LNG or some other fuel might be safely imported.

Whether an LNG facility is permitted in eastern Washington County in the next few years or not, the state must continue to extend a hand of partnership to New Brunswick while keeping an eye on how agreements serve Maine.

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