Regional leaders pledge energy cooperation

SAINT JOHN, NEW BRUNSWICK - New England governors and eastern Canadian premiers are pledging greater co-operation to meet the region's future energy needs, but a leading environmentalist says unless they take real action, it's just rhetoric.

David Coon of the New Brunswick Conservation Council says the leaders need to consider forming an Atlantic renewable energy corporation to tap the energy potential of the region.

"We need a strategic approach that would be able to plan it out to take advantage of what we've got and to gain the environmental advantages," Coon said as the premiers and governors ended their conference in Saint John, New Brunswick.

"The only way I can see that happening is if they act on the rhetoric around co-operation and create something like a regional renewable energy corporation."

The leaders spent the day hearing from officials in the energy sector and about the prospects for greater production of green power to meet each other's energy demands for the future.

"We are at one of those axis moments in history for energy in the region," said Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri.

"We need to put everything we possibly can into getting this thing pulled together."

For years, the region's premiers and governors have acknowledged the need for a coordinated plan, but have yet to consider an agency such as Coon has suggested.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest said the leaders should be looking at regional self-sufficiency as an objective.

"We view ourselves more and more as a region ecologically, economically and one that needs to sustain itself, and it makes sense that we work together in supplying each other in terms of energy," Charest told the conference.

Charest used the opportunity to promote a new 1,200 megawatt power line to carry hydroelectric power from his province into New Hampshire.

He didn't get into the accusations of economic protectionism recently leveled against Hydro-Quebec by Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams.

Earlier this month, Williams said the Quebec utility is trying to block the Lower Churchill project in Labrador to protect its own interests.

Williams said the governors and premiers must find a regional solution on energy before one is imposed by their two federal governments.

"We need to assess what we have. I think we need to assess what we need and then we need to collectively assess how do we get there," he said.

But Kenneth Irving, president of Fort Reliance, Irving Oil's parent company, warned the meeting about putting too much emphasis on just one energy source.

He said it's good to create an energy corridor into New England, but it should be able to handle power lines, natural gas and other energy supplies, depending on future demand.

"We should have strategies that are flexible enough to respond to the future as it reveals itself," Irving said.

In the meantime, New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham said the leaders are taking real action by promoting things like the liquefied natural gas plant in Saint John, a solar panel manufacturing plant in Miramichi, New Brunswick, and new wind and tidal projects across the region.

He's pitching his province as the energy hub once the leaders eventually settle on a plan for the future.



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