New Brunswick

Proposed energy corridor step closer

A proposed energy corridor, which could see New Brunswick export electricity to the New England market, cleared a hurdle Wednesday.

The plan to put an energy corridor through Maine cleared a hurdle Wednesday.

A state task force has agreed on most of the conditions for approving the corridor, which could see New Brunswick export electricity and possibly other forms of energy to the New England market.

The 13-member group, made up of politicians and community appointees, has been meeting since September to examine the implications of a corridor and recommend how to ensure Maine would benefit through lower rates for homeowners and businesses.

"If a big corridor is built from Canada, there will be no more renewable energy development in Maine," argued lawyer Tony Buxton, representing industrial consumers and liquefied natural gas (LNG) developers to the task force.

The state formed the task force after businesses that support LNG development in Passamaquoddy Bay complained that they were suffering because Maine was giving in to Canadian interests.

That's because the proposed LNG developments in Calais and Robbinston can only be reached through Canadian waters and New Brunswick officials have said they won't allow LNG tankers through the narrow Head Harbour passage because it's unsafe.

During the meeting in Augusta on Wednesday, Buxton urged the task force to delay approval for the energy corridor because he believes it will only benefit Canadians.

He was unsuccessful but the task force did accept wording suggested by Republican state Senator Peter Mills to help protect Maine's interests.

The senator's wording would require state regulators to reject any corridor project that doesn't "enhance opportunities for energy generation within the state" and "significantly and measurably reduce electricity rates and energy costs for Maine ratepayers."

Mills wanted that condition because if Hydro-Québec can "buy off New Brunswickers," then he wants Maine "bought off too," he said, referring to the proposed deal between NB Power and Hydro-Québec.

Under the proposed agreement, expected to be finalized by the end of March, Hydro-Québec is to pay $4.8 billion for the majority of NB Power's assets, a sum that would wipe out the utility's debt.

Additionally, Hydro-Québec will freeze residential rates for five years and cut large industrial rates to the level paid currently by Quebec companies. The New Brunswick government values the rate savings at $5 billion.

Tim Curry, president of the Atlantica Centre of Energy in Saint John, isn't worried about Mills' suggested terms.

"Pretty tough to argue against that," he said. "Like everybody else, they want to get some type of price advantage for the people in the state."

The task force is scheduled to meet once more on Dec. 2 to finalize its report, which will go to the legislative committee that handles utility issues.

The recommendations will then be presented as a proposed law this winter, when the legislature reconvenes.

Earlier this year, New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham and Maine Gov. John Baldacci announced their governments' intention to explore the development of an energy corridor to move electricity and natural gas between the Maritimes and New England.

The corridor would eventually include pipelines but the immediate focus is the construction of the electricity transmission line.

Along with the electricity from a potential 500- to 600-megawatt natural gas-fired Irving-owned power plant, the corridor could carry energy from offshore Nova Scotia or hydro from Newfoundland and Labrador.

Maine would providing the land for the corridor in return what the governor has said are some key investments in its energy future.