BOSTON — Quebec and New England officials called Friday for stepped up efforts to deliver hydropower across the U.S.-Canada border to the six-state region, arguing it would lower energy costs and help tackle climate change.
Philippe Couillard, the premier of Quebec, said at an energy trade conference that his province was eager to enter into new long-term contracts to provide additional electrical generating capacity to the New England states.
"There is a tremendous amount of energy to trade within our two countries," Couillard said.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage earlier told the gathering that the region's energy costs, the highest in the U.S., were crippling the region's ability to attract industry and remain competitive.
"It's very difficult for any economy to prosper when we face these odds," he said.
LePage said he and other New England governors believed it was time to stop talking and start building pipelines that would bring hydropower, as well as an increased supply of natural gas, into the region.
"For five years I have been telling folks there is hydro across the border and there is natural gas a day's drive away from Maine," the second-term Republican said.
Hydro-Quebec is working with Eversource Energy, based in Hartford, Connecticut, on the $1.4 billion Northern Pass plan to send 1,200 megawatts of electricity on mostly overhead power lines through New Hampshire to southern New England markets including Boston, Hartford and Providence, Rhode Island.
Hydro-Quebec and Eversource were among the sponsors of the Boston conference held by the New England-Canada Business Council.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has filed legislation that would require utilities to work with the state to pursue long-term contracts to bring in hydropower.
Couillard, who also met with Baker on Friday, called hydropower a reliable way of increasing generating capacity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While Hydro-Quebec has had a long-term delivery contract with Vermont for decades, only a fraction of the total hydropower sent to New England in 2014 was through longer deals that he said offered stability to buyers.
"When we send power to New England homes through a long-term contract, we treat it exactly as we would to our own homes," he said.
While Hydro-Quebec is behind the Northern Pass proposal, other transmission plans have been offered and the premier said it was up to New England leaders to decide on the best approach.
Environmental groups, including the Conservation Law Foundation, have said Canadian hydropower could play a larger role in New England's energy future, but they caution that an expansion of hydropower should be undertaken thoughtfully to avoid undermining development of local renewable energy.
The governors are also working to boost natural gas capacity to avoid energy spikes caused by shortages during times of peak demand. The sense of urgency has grown following the announcement that Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, Massachusetts, will close by June 2019.
Kinder Morgan Inc., a Houston company that also was a sponsor of the conference, is seeking to bring a natural gas pipeline into New England through western Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, with the potential that the power generated could also be shared with eastern Canada.
Couillard noted more than 50 percent of the province's oil and gas supplies are imported from the U.S.