Thursday, April 24, 2014
By JOHN KASSEL
Against a backdrop of protesters vehemently opposing bad proposals to bring energy from Canada into New England, governors from the six New England states this week demonstrated their commitment to a clean energy future for our region.
Trailbreaker would send slurry oil derived from tar sands in western Canada to Portland by reversing the flow of the Portland-to-Montreal pipeline. Built more than 50 years ago, it cuts across Quebec, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
1999 Press Herald File
They resolved to pool their buying power, regionally, for renewable energy.
This will boost wind and solar energy, among other clean sources, at the best available price.
This is a much-needed step on our path to affordable renewable energy and independence from dirty fossil fuels.
The resolution was announced at the 36th annual meeting of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers, held July 29-30 in Burlington, Vt.
The protesters outside the meeting had the attention of high-ranking officials from Canada, whose energy system has been linked with ours -- in small ways so far -- for decades.
That linkage could grow dramatically in the future, for mutual benefit.
Eastern Canada has the potential to serve markets all over New England with low-carbon, low-cost and clean electricity from renewable sources.
And New England needs it, if we get it on the right terms.
The wrong terms are exemplified by the Trailbreaker proposal and the Northern Pass transmission project, the two Canadian energy proposals galvanizing protesters outside the meetings in Burlington.
Trailbreaker would send slurry oil derived from tar sands in western Canada to Portland by reversing the flow of the Portland-to-Montreal pipeline that has cut across Quebec, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine since it was built more than 50 years ago.
Northern Pass would cut a route running the length of New Hampshire, including through the White Mountains, for a high-voltage direct current transmission line to deliver Canadian hydropower to parts of New England.
In both cases, the environmental burdens far outweigh any benefits for our region.
However, long-term supplies of hydro, wind and other sources of power are what New England needs.
These are sources of power that respect and significantly benefit the landscape through which they are transmitted, support rather than undermine the development of New England's own renewable energy resources, replace coal and other dirty fuels, keep the lights on at reasonable cost and accurately account for their impacts.
Conversations inside the meeting were tilting in the direction of such productive cross-border cooperation, with the governors and premiers promising joint action on climate and electric vehicles.
And in a definitive move that capped many years of foundation-laying by the New England states for a regional renewable energy market, all six states committed to a hard deadline for launching this regional market -- the first of its kind in the nation.
The commitment will allow much-needed renewable energy projects to move forward with the speed and certainty that developers need and with the lower prices that customers want.
The reality that many of these projects could be built in Maine, bringing jobs and property tax revenue to the state, was certainly not lost on Gov. Paul LePage's representative, Ken Fletcher, director of the Governor's Energy Office, who voted to move this effort forward.
While the governors and premiers around that table, as well others in the room participating in the meeting or outside protesting, certainly do not agree about everything, it was clear that the need for and great potential of forward-thinking clean energy projects that generate jobs and power was on everyone's minds.
Still, with deeply-flawed proposals like Trailbreaker and Northern Pass still on the table, we need to remain vigilant.
And we will spend the effort to defeat them if we must.
But any effort spent on irresponsible proposals, whether advancing them or fighting them, is an unfortunate use of precious time for both countries, given the urgent call of climate change.
The sooner we get to the task of building our shared clean energy future the better, for New Englanders and our friends to the north.
John Kassel is president of the Conservation Law Foundation.