New England's growing need for more affordable, cleaner electricity met competing Canadian solutions as eastern governors and premiers gathered Monday.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard quoted one of his predecessors, Robert Bourassa, as he summed up the dilemma for the six governors attending the annual conference of regional leaders in St. John's, N.L.
"The question for the northeast is whether it will continue its dependence on very expensive forms of energy, which may damage the environment and do little to help the economy, or look to its neighbour to the north for a viable alternative — a neighbour who is already its greatest trading partner and best friend in the world."
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker drew laughs as he spoke to the open, one-day meeting by simply re-reading the passage that Couillard quoted from Bourassa's 1985 book "Power from the North."
"Our view on this one is pretty simple," he said. "We have goals and objectives associated with reducing our carbon footprint. We believe the right relationship with Canadian hydro will make that a lot easier."
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy told the closing news conference that a lack of natural gas pipeline capacity during winter cold snaps has cost New England billions of dollars on the spot market for extra power.
"This is all hands on deck," he said of the need to come up with less costly but also environmentally responsible answers. Malloy stressed, however, that new energy supplies must come at a reasonable cost.
"This is not access at any price. It's access at an appropriate price."
Eastern provinces rich in hydroelectric power, natural gas and other resources are anxious to make deals.
Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador in particular have hydro power available or pending that they'd like to sell.
Baker, representing the biggest market by far, met separately with Couillard and also planned a one-on-one talk later Monday with Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Paul Davis.
Decades-long court battles between the two provinces are ongoing and have centred on the lopsided Churchill Falls hydro plant deal.
The 1969 agreement to ship power from Labrador to Quebec for sale has reaped more than $22 billion in profits for Quebec, versus about $1 billion for Newfoundland and Labrador. Quebec has steadfastly refused to renegotiate original terms, which did not reflect rising energy values and do not expire until 2041.
Then there were squabbles over reasonable costs of transmission through Quebec. They led Newfoundland and Labrador to partner with Nova Scotia private utility Emera (TSX:EMA) to build the $8.6-billion Muskrat Falls hydro project now under construction in Labrador.
Still, both Davis and Couillard took pains Monday to say they're looking forward.
"While there is a level of competitiveness, there's growing demand for hydroelectricity," said Davis, who hopes to secure a long-term buyer for the much larger Gull Island project.
"We have our challenges from the past," he said of his relationship with Couillard. "But at the same time, we also have to look to the future."
Couillard agreed there will be more than enough energy market share to go around.
In French, he suggested it's time for the two provinces to stop paying lawyers and work together.
The next conference of regional leaders will take place next year in Massachusetts.