Sunday, August 16, 2009

Maine Energy Transmission Commission unlikely to try countering Canada's Head Harbour Passage stand

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Commission refraining from international treaties
Published Saturday August 15th, 2009
Report Issue of tanker traffic through Passamaquoddy Bay waters isn't for
Maine's new energy transmission group, members say

John Pollack

One of the key issues that led to a Maine energy transmission commission
forming won't likely be considered by the bi-partisan legislative group.

The recently formed Maine Energy Infrastructure Commission will set out the
blueprints for regulating energy transmission in the state, but doesn't plan
use the opportunity to gain leverage in the ongoing contentious debate over
LNG tanker traffic through Canadian waters, says Senator Barry Hobbins
(D-Saco), who is the commission co-chairman.

"Our commission isn't going to be getting into international treaties,"
Hobbins says.

Commission member and Representative Stacey Allen Fitts (R-Pittsfield)
agrees the issue isn't for the commission to resolve.

"It's pretty difficult for us to put a barrier on Canadian power coming
through Maine as a trade-off for backing down from LNG," he says. "I think
the economics should determine that decision and not the politics."

After partners Irving Oil Ltd., New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham, and
Maine Gov. John Baldacci in March announced their intentions to build an
energy corridor from New Brunswick through Maine to other New England
Markets, many state residents questioned the governor's enthusiasm for a
project they see as benefiting only New Brunswick.

The issue of tanker traffic through the Passamaquoddy Bay waters, which is
key to the state's development of liquefied natural gas facilities,
re-emerged as one of the hot issues that pushed legislators to put a halt to
transmission projects until they could be regulated.

Bill 1485 was passed in June, which prevented final building permits from
being issued and formed the commission.

Hobbins and company will file a report by Dec. 2 that legislatures will use
to pass a law governing transmission projects. The law is expected to be in
place by next July, at which point the building ban would be lifted. The
commission will begin to meet bi-weekly after Labour Day.

While neither Hobbins nor Fitts would speculate on what the regulations on
energy corridors might be, both highlighted the role of renewable energy,
leasing agreements, and the effects projects could have on power rates as
key issues the commission will look at.

The cost of energy is one of the top concerns for Keith Van Scotter, one of
the private sector members of the commission.

"Maine can not continue to have the exceedingly high electricity costs that
it has had. It is anti-competitive," said Van Scotter, the chief executive
of Lincon Paper and Tissue LLC, which owns a pulp mill and paper-making
operation. "We pay roughly double what industries in New Brunswick do."

The commission will study how much transmission will be needed so that too
much isn't built, which could drive up transmission and distribution costs
for users.

"Is it in the state's interest to try to encourage developers to work
together to minimize footprint on the land, and to be more efficient in the
use of any corridor?" says Karin Tilberg, Baldacci's senior energy policy
adviser and a member of the commission.

But Fitts isn't a big fan of regulation.

"The markets are going to establish what actually gets build," he says. "We
can surely put obstructions in the way for the market and that's something
we should be avoiding."

He is concerned with working out a beneficial leasing policy.

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