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Panel remains stymied on rules for energy corridor proposals

Maine's attempt to create clear rules to guide multibillion-dollar energy corridor projects through the state came up short Wednesday, because of deep philosophical divisions that foreshadow debate next year in the Legislature. The impasse came during the final meeting of a 13-member study panel. The group was formed by the Legislature to recommend rules to give Maine the maximum benefit from proposed electricity, gas and petroleum corridors.

At issue is an effort to pressure Canada to route projects through Maine.

AUGUSTA - Maine's attempt to create clear rules to guide multibillion-dollar energy corridor projects through the state came up short Wednesday, because of deep philosophical divisions that foreshadow debate next year in the Legislature.

The impasse came during the final meeting of a 13-member study panel. The group was formed by the Legislature to recommend rules to give Maine the maximum benefit from proposed electricity, gas and petroleum corridors that someday could connect energy projects in the state and Canada with Boston and southern New England.

In the spring, lawmakers banned any major projects until new rules are in place.

Energy developers who had hoped the process would help remove uncertainty over how to proceed in Maine left Wednesday's meeting disappointed. Two of them said they will continue planning as the state wrestles with its corridor policies.

The panel made some progress. There was wide agreement, for instance, on trying to encourage corridors along Interstate 95; approving only projects that lower energy prices for residents and business, and setting up measures for Maine to lease space in... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

At issue is an effort to pressure Canada to route projects through Maine.

AUGUSTA - Maine's attempt to create clear rules to guide multibillion-dollar energy corridor projects through the state came up short Wednesday, because of deep philosophical divisions that foreshadow debate next year in the Legislature.

The impasse came during the final meeting of a 13-member study panel. The group was formed by the Legislature to recommend rules to give Maine the maximum benefit from proposed electricity, gas and petroleum corridors that someday could connect energy projects in the state and Canada with Boston and southern New England.

In the spring, lawmakers banned any major projects until new rules are in place.

Energy developers who had hoped the process would help remove uncertainty over how to proceed in Maine left Wednesday's meeting disappointed. Two of them said they will continue planning as the state wrestles with its corridor policies.

The panel made some progress. There was wide agreement, for instance, on trying to encourage corridors along Interstate 95; approving only projects that lower energy prices for residents and business, and setting up measures for Maine to lease space in the corridors.

But the panel got bogged down early over whether to extend the ban until Canada agrees to let liquefied natural gas tankers sail through New Brunswick waters to reach proposed terminals in Washington County.

The moratorium's supporters feel passionately that it will put pressure on Canada to give in, so that Hydro Quebec and other energy companies can deliver power through Maine to lucrative Northeast markets.

Opponents say the strategy has had no effect, and it may lead Canadian companies to bypass Maine and build a transmission line through New Hampshire, for instance. If that happens, they say, Maine could miss out on billions of dollars in economic development.

Those two points of view, reflecting an urban-rural split, were represented on the panel by its co-chairmen, state Sen. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, and state Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake.

Martin lives in Aroostook County, a part of Maine that isn't connected to the U.S. electricity grid. He doesn't want Canadian projects to cross northern Maine unless they create jobs and connect with renewable-energy projects in the county.

He proposed extending the moratorium until 2015, except for green-power projects that provide at least 100 permanent jobs, for example.

Hobbins, on the other hand, sees Maine in a race with other states to site energy corridors for wind power and vast Canadian hydroelectric resources. Those lines will be built elsewhere, he says, if Maine delays too long.

The panel of lawmakers, businesspeople and state officials tried to bridge the gap with various compromise proposals Wednesday. And while a majority did agree on a framework of rules, emotional debate over the moratorium left the group issuing divided reports.

That information will go to the legislative committee that handles utility matters. Three members of the study panel, including Hobbins, serve on that committee.

After the votes, opposing sides had different takes on what had been accomplished.

Tony Buxton, a lawyer who represents one of the proposed LNG terminals and has been a driving force for extending the moratorium, said the panel's action sends two messages to Canada: The ban will continue until the tanker issue is resolved, and Hydro Quebec will have to pay a fair price to build a corridor through Maine.

Hobbins, however, said he was frustrated.

"We have, I believe, missed a golden opportunity to step up to the plate," he said.

That frustration was shared by Stephen Conant, senior vice president for Anbaric Transmission in Wakefield, Mass. He represents a proposal called the Green Line, which would move renewable power from Maine to Boston via a 140-mile undersea cable from Wiscasset.

"It continues to create uncertainty for investment," Conant said of the panel's actions.

Conant said his company already has spent millions of dollars and has private investors for a project that could total $500 million.

Continuing the moratorium until 2015, he said, would kill the deal.

But he said his company plans to "hang in there" to see what happens after lawmakers reconvene in January.

"The question from our investors is, when will this all be clear?" he said.

Clarity also eluded Daniel Goodwin, a spokesman for New Brunswick-based Irving Oil/Fort Reliant. It was Irving/Fort Reliant's proposal early this year, called the Northeast Energy Corridor, that led to the moratorium and the study panel.

Goodwin said his company is still studying the plan, and it believes Maine and Atlantic Canada must work together as a region in energy development.


Source: http://pressherald.mainetod...

DEC 3 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/23430-panel-remains-stymied-on-rules-for-energy-corridor-proposals
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