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New England governors, Canadian counterparts talk energy

Elliot deBruyn | The Burlington Free Press
Elliot deBruyn | The Burlington Free Press
Hundreds of protesters march down South Winooski Avenue in Burlington, Vt., during demonstrations on Sunday, July 29, 2012, as the 36th Annual Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers set up at the hotel.
WILSON RING, The Associated Press

BURLINGTON, Vt. — New England governors and their eastern Canadian counterparts, who are eager to export a growing overabundance of hydroelectric and wind power, promised Monday to work together to increase the use of clean energy throughout the region.

During their 36th annual meeting, governors, eastern Canadian provincial leaders and their representatives talked about the need to share energy resources across state, provincial and international boundaries. They also talked about transportation and alternative transportation issues, such as electric vehicles.

Monday’s meeting at a hotel overlooking Lake Champlain lacked the drama of a series of protests on Sunday during which police in riot gear fired nonlethal projectiles at demonstrators blocking buses carrying conference participants.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said after the conference ended that he was disappointed police had to use force to make it possible for the buses to leave the hotel, but he supported the Burlington police as well as the stated goals of the protesters.

“I think we are in harmony with much of their agenda,” Shumlin said.
“When I see protests that are suggesting we need to move to renewables, that we need to ensure that we get off oil and create jobs with more energy efficiency and the other issues that they’re addressing, we’re inside here doing the hard to deliver on those wishes.”

Maine’s governor, Paul LePage, didn’t attend the gathering of New England governors for the second year in a row. Instead, he sent Ken Fletcher, director of the governor’s energy office, who also attended last year.

“The meetings and discussions Ken is participating in will be crucial to advancing our energy agenda next legislative session,” LePage said in a statement released by his office. “My administration is going to continue to work tirelessly to lower Maine’s energy costs and make the state more business-friendly.”

As part of their discussion Monday, officials from the United States and Canada passed a resolution to work together to increase the flow of clean energy.

“The fact of the matter is, it’s helpful to Vermont, it’s helpful to the Northeast states to have the Canadians competing for our business,” Shumlin said during a break in the morning session.

“The combination of the expansion of hydro in both Labrador and Quebec, because they are both expanding, and building more juice than Canadians can burn … are an opportunity for us as a region to sign up some cheap, green reliable power,” Shumlin said.

But Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said his state is most interested in lowering energy costs. “If we are going to subsidize something with higher cost, we were going to subsidize it in our own state,” Malloy said.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest said his province is the fourth-largest producer of hydro-electricity in the world and the province is in the process of expanding its wind power production.

He lamented that many places in the United States don’t consider large-scale hydro-electric project to be a part of green energy portfolios.

“The view of Canadians is that larger scale projects, including large-scale hydro, will be complementary to what you are doing,” Charest said.

“If we do not look at that bigger picture we are going to depriving ourselves of all the work that needs to be done,” he said.

Elyse Vollant, a member of the indigenous Innu Nation from northern Quebec, came to Burlington to voice her opposition to her government’s energy policies, which she believes threaten traditional lands and cultures.

“Vermont is one of the principal buyers of energy from Hydro Quebec. They want people to know here what’s happening upstream,” she said through a French translator.

Meanwhile, Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling said Monday that officers who fired pepper balls and used other crowd-control tactics against protesters on Sunday followed the city’s policies and procedures.

“At least based on what we know now I think they did an outstanding job of ensuring that what occurred didn’t escalate further,” Schirling said.

As for possible charges against protesters, Schirling said the department was focusing on getting through Monday and that a criminal investigation will begin Tuesday.

BDN writer Matthew Stone contributed to this report.

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