Maine: A power cord for other states?

For seven and a half years, Governor LePage has decried Maine’s high energy costs and worked to address both supply and cost issues for businesses and homeowners. In his recent weekly radio address, the Governor sent out a request for experts to provide more insight into the rapidly changing energy landscape. He asked how Maine might address the issue of increased demand for renewable energy.

While governors in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey bow to renewable initiatives, establishing laudable but expensive goals for wind and solar power supply, their ratepayers are facing higher energy costs and less reliable energy supply. These governors ignore the general reliance on immediately dispatchable power — the kind supplied by natural gas plants, coal plants and nuclear reactors. Governors Baker of Massachusetts and Cuomo of New York have even blocked pipeline expansions that would bring cheap, lower-emissions natural gas from Pennsylvania’s vast fracking operations to the Northeast. Meanwhile, early terminations of clean-emissions nuclear power plants in their states have been encouraged.

Here in Maine, our recent winter proved how tenuous the region’s energy supply is, with the New England energy grid stretched to the max, requiring activation of older oil-burning plants to keep up with the region’s electricity needs. New England grid operators are genuinely concerned that extreme events will trigger rolling blackouts as states continue to eliminate existing baseline energy producers in favor wind and solar.

Governor LePage states, “We want to identify any obstacles to creating a more integrated electricity system between Maine and our neighboring Canadian provinces … there may be existing cross-border institutions, trade agreements or other mechanisms that could facilitate such improved integration.”

LePage also asks “Maine’s electric utilities, gas utilities and consumer electricity groups to identify issues to be considered by his administration (and the next) to reduce the energy costs and improve the lives of Maine citizens.”

Currently, Maine receives the majority of its propane from Canada via the portable pipeline: the railroad. Much of our diesel, heating oil and gasoline comes from Canada, via rail and ship. Our natural gas supply is constrained by small pipelines from both east and west and provides for no further significant expansion that would help reduce consumers’ energy costs. The proposed Central Maine Power transmission line from Quebec to the grid in Lewiston would connect Maine — and New England — to the massive Hydro-Quebec electricity supply at a time when other states in the Northeast are begging for renewable energy. That project represents a significant opportunity.

Renewable energy generation from solar and wind has the potential to lower electricity costs for us all. But reliability, when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, requires a dependable and immediately available supply from electricity generators.

We already receive half of our weather from Canada, and much more of our energy than folks generally realize. Canada has power options. Americans have power needs. Maine has the opportunity to become the Northeastern electricity highway for hydro, natural gas and, yes, carbon-based fuels from Canada to the energy-starved metro areas to our south.

As requested by the Governor, the experts also need to share their energy ideas to help formulate a vital energy plan for our beloved state of Maine.

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