Lessons for Big Gas from Maine’s Last Proposed LNG Terminal

Sean Mahoney | @SeanCLF

With very little fanfare, the last proposal for a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Maine was just dismissed by federal regulators. At least half a dozen LNG terminal projects have been proposed in Downeast Maine over the last 15 years, with this last one in play, or better yet, suspended animation, for the last 10. Several of the projects involved massive investments of time by federal and state regulators; all of them promised economic prosperity and low-cost energy.

Sound familiar? Of course it does. It’s the same propaganda that we’re currently being fed about natural gas pipelines: if we spend public money (yours and mine) to entice the private sector (Big Gas) to build massive new energy infrastructure, then economic prosperity and cheap energy will follow.

It’s a story that rang hollow for all of those proposed LNG projects – and it rings just as hollow for Big Gas.

We Didn’t Need New Gas Terminals Then…

The proposed $2 billion project first proposed by Downeast LNG a decade ago would have included an 80-acre terminal site for both importing and exporting liquefied natural gas – all perched along the shores of Passamaquoddy Bay. Many of the terminals proposed over the years threatened the pristine Downeast coastline. Lucky for Maine, a hardy and indefatigable band of local residents, led by the Save Passamaquoddy Bay folks in Eastport and their counterparts in New Brunswick, always kept a spotlight on the environmental and safety risks of the many proposals.

At CLF, we focused on the need, or lack thereof, for the projects, given the existing LNG facilities in New Brunswick and in Boston. These existing (and underutilized) facilities weren’t only key to debunking the argument for new LNG terminals, however; they’re also central to deflating the current clamor for massive new gas pipelines. A white paper released by CLF last year showed that maximizing the use of this existing LNG infrastructure is a key component to the most efficient and cost-effective way of relieving constraints on the region’s existing gas pipeline system during the winter months.

…And We Don’t Need New Gas Pipelines Now

The last thing Maine needs are white elephant projects like Downeast LNG – or Spectra’s proposed Access Northeast natural gas pipeline. CLF has argued for months that the scheme approved by Maine’s Public Utilities Commission to force electricity consumers to bankroll a massive new pipeline is too risky, because a pipeline just isn’t needed (three private studies contracted by the PUC agreed). Such a scheme has also been proposed by utilities commissions in other states across the region. When the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court waded into the fray this month, it sided with CLF – and its decision is reverberating throughout New England, including here in Maine.

Proposals for LNG terminals withered on the vine because the markets recognized that there was no need for them. Now the markets are sending a clear signal about proposals for large-scale natural gas infrastructure. Let’s make sure it doesn’t take another 15 years for Big Gas to get the message: Maine doesn’t need any more white elephant sales.

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