Can New England and Canada Achieve ‘Frenergy’?

John Kassel

Against a backdrop of protesters vehemently opposing bad proposals to bring energy from Canada into New England, governors from the six New England states this week demonstrated their commitment to a clean energy future for our region. They resolved to pool their buying power, regionally, for renewable energy. This will boost wind and solar energy, among other clean sources, at the best available price — a much-needed step on our path to affordable renewable energy and independence from dirty fossil fuels.

The resolution was announced at the 36th annual meeting of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers, held July 29th and 30th in Burlington, Vermont. The protesters outside the meeting had the attention of high-ranking officials from Canada, whose energy system has been linked with ours – in small ways so far – for decades.  That linkage could grow dramatically in the future, for mutual benefit.  Eastern Canada has the potential to serve markets all over New England with low-carbon, low-cost and clean electricity from renewable sources. And New England needs it, if we get it on the right terms.

The wrong terms are exemplified by the Trailbreaker proposal and the Northern Pass transmission project, the two Canadian energy proposals galvanizing protesters outside the meetings in Burlington. Trailbreaker would send slurry oil derived from tar sands in Western Canada to Portland, Maine by reversing the flow of the Portland-to-Montreal pipeline that has cut across Quebec, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine since it was built over 50 years ago. Northern Pass would cut a route running the length of New Hampshire, including through the White Mountains, for a high-voltage DC transmission line to deliver Canadian hydropower to parts of New England. In both cases, the environmental burdens far outweigh any benefits for our region.

However, long-term supplies of hydro, wind and other sources of power – that respect and significantly benefit the landscape through which they are transmitted, support rather than undermine the development of New England’s own renewable energy resources, replace coal  and other dirty fuels, keep the lights on at reasonable cost, and accurately account for their impacts – are what New England needs. The details will be complicated, but they can be worked out.

Conversations inside the meeting were tilting in the direction of such productive cross-border cooperation, and the announcement of a regional resolution to bring clean, affordable energy to New England may have provided some salve for the protesters. Still, we need to continue to be vigilant about Trailbreaker and Northern Pass and we will spend the effort to defeat them if we must. But any effort spent on these deeply-flawed proposals –whether advancing them or fighting them – is an unfortunate use of precious time for both countries, given the urgent call of climate change.

The sooner we get to the task of building our shared clean energy future the better, for New Englanders and our friends to the north.

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Northern Pass

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