By Richard Valdmanis
BOSTON (Reuters) - Maine Governor Paul LePage on Friday said building high-voltage transmission lines from eastern Canada will be key to helping New England cut its soaring electricity costs, which he said had driven out businesses and cost the region jobs.
"There's a better future for New England if we open the door to Quebec," he said at the New England-Canada Business Council energy forum in Boston. "The new horizon is in partnering with Canada, our family to the North, and to make things happen."
New England has the highest electricity prices in the continental United States, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, a situation that has worsened after the closure of nuclear and coal-fueled power plants in recent years.
LePage and other New England governors have long supported the idea of buying hydropower from Quebec and Labrador to ease the crunch but billions of dollars worth of proposals to build transmission lines have faced local and legislative opposition on environmental and aesthetic grounds.
The region also is contending with a pipeline bottleneck that has limited the supplies of natural gas from the huge Marcellus shale reserve under Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
"For five years I've been telling folks that there's hydro across the border and there's natural gas a day's drive away from Maine," LePage said. "It's just a matter of getting the infrastructure in place."
The New England Coalition for Affordable Energy estimates that infrastructure constraints have cost power consumers in the region about $7.5 billion in the past three years.
High and volatile prices in New England also have been blamed for a series of business closures, including mills and manufacturing plants. LePage said Maine had been particularly hard-hit.
"The state of Maine has lowered its emissions by 30 percent," he said. "We didn't do anything. That's why we lowered emissions: we lost our industrial base. It's insane."
(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Bill Trott)