FALMOUTH — Frustrated by failed attempts to greatly expand natural gas capacity in New England, Gov. Paul LePage said Thursday that he wants to develop a new pipeline from Quebec into Maine in an effort to lower energy prices for homes and businesses.

“We cannot move forward as a state without more pipeline capacity,” LePage told a meeting of industry professionals and other business people at the fifth annual Natural Gas Conference held at The Woodlands Club in Falmouth.

LePage told the group he plans to meet with officials in Quebec in the next month or so. In subsequent comments to the Portland Press Herald, LePage said the province is interested in a new gas line that could bring supply from western Canada through Maine.

“The Canadians want to help,” he said.

Attempts to reach the Canadian Consulate General in Boston were unsuccessful Thursday.

LePage’s energy office is in contact with the consulate, which currently is led by David Alward, a former New Brunswick premier. LePage supported Alward’s attempts to bring a proposed crude oil pipeline from western Canada to New Brunswick.

Maine officials have been trying for years to expand pipeline capacity in an effort to ease the hefty price differential that manufacturers pay for energy, compared to their competitors in the Southeast and Midwest. Those efforts have largely been stalled by public and political opposition to building new pipelines to the south, notably in Massachusetts.

Maine is affected because the lines that bring lower-cost natural gas from Pennsylvania and New York must first pass through Massachusetts, supplying homes, businesses and power plants along the way. On the coldest days, there’s not enough gas to meet all the region’s demand, causing prices to spike.

At the same time, environmental groups in Maine have been fighting pipeline expansions, favoring investments in efficiency, wind and solar.

LePage provided no details about his proposal. But any new pipeline would take hundreds of millions of dollars in investment, commitments from end users and years of studies and permits, leading some experts at the conference to say the governor’s idea is unrealistic. They also noted that a pipeline from Quebec through Maine already exists – the 18-year-old Portland Natural Gas Transmission System, or PNGTS, which runs from the border 143 miles to Westbrook.

Representatives from PNGTS at the conference declined to comment. But Scott Castleman, a natural gas spokesman for part-owner TransCanada, told the Press Herald that while his company is always looking for ways to meet demand in the United States, he wasn’t aware of TransCanada’s participation in meetings with LePage.

PNGTS is completing a smaller expansion, called Continent to Coast, which is set to go into service this fall.

Whatever its validity, LePage’s vision reflects a growing resignation among some Maine officials that opposition to new pipelines in southern New England will continue to block access to greater quantities of low-cost gas from Appalachian shale deposits.

In his remarks to the gas group, LePage blamed “liberals” who have pushed policies to subsidize wind and solar energy for Maine’s above-average electric costs, noting that nearly half of the state’s electricity is generated by gas.

LePage also acknowledged the transition in the forest products industry that has led to five paper mill closings in three years. But he suggested the paper industry can reinvent itself and make other goods, such as packaging, if natural gas costs could be lowered.

If a new pipeline from Quebec has a role in that, it wasn’t clear to some experts who gave presentations at the conference.

“You wouldn’t build a new pipeline, it wouldn’t make sense,” said Rich Silkman, a founder and partner at Competitive Energy Services.

Silkman was a principal in the group that extended gas pipelines to the Kennebec Valley in 2010, which were later taken over by Summit Natural Gas of Maine. Silkman also said lower oil prices would make it hard to raise capital for any large natural gas expansion.

“The world is different today than it was five years ago,” Silkman said.

Stephen Leahy, vice president of policy and analysis at the Northeast Gas Association, said LePage was “thinking outside the box” on gas supply to the region, but that businesses would have to sign contracts to underwrite costs.

“It’s interesting and encouraging that the governor is looking to bring new capacity into the state,” he said.

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or

[email protected]

[email protected]