Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Maine, N.B. eye beneficial initiatives

Bangor Daily News
February 13, 2008

AUGUSTA, Maine — New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham told a joint session of the Maine Legislature on Tuesday that he wants to develop partnerships in tourism, trade, transportation — and especially energy.

"Of course, we are building on a very long tradition of friendship between our provinces — a friendship that extends back centuries and generations," Graham said.

"By sharing our experiences and our knowledge and looking for new opportunities for cooperation, each of our jurisdictions can benefit," Graham told the House-Senate convention.

Graham called for cross-border initiatives in several areas. In tourism, for example, a "two-nation vacation" initiative encourages people who visit Maine to extend their vacations to New Brunswick.

Efforts on both sides of the border seek a slowed-down approach to stricter U.S. passport requirements, the premier said. Graham noted that a study of an east-west highway from Canada through Maine is under way.

The New Brunswick leader and Maine Gov. John Baldacci are even talking about climbing their respective jurisdictions’ mountains — Mount Carleton in New Brunswick and Mount Katahdin in Maine — together this summer.

But energy issues — how the two can work together to help feed growing energy demand to the south — dominated a news conference after Graham’s formal remarks to lawmakers. Last year, Graham and Baldacci signed a memorandum of understanding to increase cooperation on electrical interconnections.

Maine, meanwhile, is considering a plan to ease increases in the cost of pulling away from the New England power grid and forming closer ties with Atlantic Canada to generate and distribute power. A Public Utilities Commission report says the organization of the region’s grid is flawed and that Maine could benefit from any of three alternatives, including in-place changes, outright withdrawal or a new partnership.

New Brunswick and Maine, which both rely heavily on wood and other natural resource-based industries, are each energy-surplus regions, their top elected leaders said.

Graham said New Brunswick envisions itself as a major East Coast energy hub, noting that projects in the province include natural gas production that will put 1 billion cubic feet a day into the pipeline, refurbishment of the nuclear power plant at Point Lepreau, a proposal to build a new nuclear plant, and Irving Oil’s proposal to build a new refinery that would double its present capacity.

"New Brunswick has surplus energy, electricity and energy markets to tap into, but access to those markets is critical," Graham told reporters. Maine "is a key player in the development of our policies," he said.

Baldacci said power costs are a major concern, noting that rising energy and transportation costs impede business expansion more than any other factors.

"The goal from our perspective is, we want lower rates," the governor said.

The governor ticked off Maine’s energy initiatives, which include billions of dollars in wind power projects on the drawing boards in addition to those built or being built, wood pellets and potential for tidal energy.

"If we are able to join forces with the transmission capabilities, we can benefit," Baldacci said. "Lower the cost to ratepayers and also to our businesses, and at the same time be able to help out the southern New England region, which has a need for the power."

Graham started his day in Bangor, where he addressed the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce and participated in a conference on tourism.

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