Maine lawmaker pushes for state to join Atlantic Loop negotiations

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Officials from Ottawa, the Atlantic provinces and Quebec have been talking about an interconnected grid for renewable energy since 2019. No detailed plans have been released. (John Woods/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Officials from Ottawa, the Atlantic provinces and Quebec have been talking about an interconnected grid for renewable energy since 2019. No detailed plans have been released. (John Woods/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Lawmakers in Maine are discussing how the state could plug into a proposed Canadian electricity grid that is meant to make renewable energy more accessible and affordable for the Atlantic provinces and Quebec.

Christopher Kessler, a Democrat in the Maine House of Representatives, introduced a bill last month that would see the state lobby for a seat at the negotiating table for an interconnected clean energy grid called the Atlantic Loop.

The Atlantic Clean Power Planning Committee — made up of officials from federal and provincial governments, and major electric utilities — has been talking about the Atlantic Loop since 2019, and released a rough map of the grid in a report last summer.

The Trudeau Liberals gave the Atlantic Loop a nod of support in last fall's Throne Speech.

The loop would likely rely on some upgrades to existing energy lines, and some new construction, but no detailed plan has been made public.

This map of a possible Atlantic Loop route was included in an interim report from the Atlantic Clean Power Planning Committee in August 2020. The committee is expected to release a final report in March.
This map of a possible Atlantic Loop route was included in an interim report from the Atlantic Clean Power Planning Committee in August 2020. The committee is expected to release a final report in March.

Maine looking to export renewable energy

Kessler said he wants his state to be part of the loop because Maine and Atlantic Canada have similar goals for removing carbon from their electric grids, and linking up could be mutually beneficial.

He said it would also help Maine with its goal of eventually selling renewable energy to other jurisdictions.

"Maine has an interest in not just having access to renewable energy to help stabilize our grid and make it more reliable, but Maine also has goals to be a renewable energy exporter," Kessler said in an interview.

He pointed out that Maine already has infrastructure linking it to New Brunswick and Quebec, but whether those links will connect with the rest of the Atlantic Loop is unclear.

"It's all completely up in the air as to how [the Atlantic Loop] would look. That's the exact point of this starting of the conversation, is so we can have those discussions and do that analysis and see if there is something where both Maine and the Atlantic provinces can work together so we can reach our decarbonization goals."

Should Kessler's bill pass, it would require the governor to voice interest in the Atlantic Loop directly to the prime minister and the premiers of all the involved provinces, and ask for "equal footing" in all negotiations.

Governor's office suggests staying out of negotiations

The bill went to a public hearing at a committee of the state legislature earlier this month.

Next, it will be debated further by committee members, who will decide whether to advance it to the whole House of Representatives. If it passes at the house, it would move to the state senate for a final vote.

Workers are shown on the construction site of the hydroelectric facility at Muskrat Falls, Newfoundland and Labrador in 2015. The Atlantic Loop would be fed, in part, by hydroelectric projects like Muskrat Falls.
Workers are shown on the construction site of the hydroelectric facility at Muskrat Falls, Newfoundland and Labrador in 2015. The Atlantic Loop would be fed, in part, by hydroelectric projects like Muskrat Falls.

One of the testimonies submitted to the public hearing was from the Governor's Energy Office.

Office director Dan Burgess wrote that rather than pushing for a place at the negotiating table, "it may be more productive for Maine to continue monitoring the ongoing planning initiative and any advancements of the Atlantic Loop concept."

Kessler disagreed.

"I think that being actively involved is the only option … We will miss out on any potential opportunities if we don't ask. And we certainly need to be an active participant rather than a spectator," he said.

Since that public hearing, Kessler said, he's been working with the governor's office to come up with some solutions for the points Burgess raised.

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