As workers at Cianbro Cos.’s Eastern Manufacturing Facility in Brewer, Maine, load four massive petroleum refinery modules for barge shipment to Port Arthur, Texas, the firm’s chairman is touting a plan that could reap millions of dollars to spur construction of a new statewide green infrastructure.
Peter G. Vigue, who also is Pittsfield, Maine-based Cianbro’s CEO, calls for establishing an energy trust authority to lease state-owned land and rights-of-way, particularly along Interstate 95, and more. The plan is backed by state legislative leaders, who are planning public hearings.
The first leaseholder may be Bangor Hydro Electric Co., for a $2.5-billion, 240-mile high-voltage line to transmit possibly 660 MW of electricity from Canada to southern New England. “We are in the development process now,” says Susan E. Faloon, BHE spokeswoman. “Our goal is to have the project energized by 2012.”
Revenue from that line, estimated at $1.6 billion over 40 years, would leverage a revenue bond to fund a comprehensive six-point program targeting heating, energy security, food security, business and investment attraction, health and transportation. “Our primary focus is to become the greenest and healthiest state in North America,” says Vigue.
“This is a big, bold vision that has lots of support and will help position Maine for the future,” says Senate President Elizabeth H. Mitchell (D). Gov. John E. Baldacci (D) says, “Pete was a catalyst for an important idea that we believe will turn Maine’s transportation corridors into commerce corridors.”
The plan leverages state assets against the cost of negotiating private rights-of-ways for transmission lines or utilities. “It eliminates time and cost involved in permitting and purchasing,” says Vigue. “Lease revenues pay off the revenue bond.”
Vigue notes there are 450,000 homes in the state, 80% of which use heating oil. Weatherization would reduce energy demand between 10% and 30%. Converting all homes to electricity using locally developed and manufactured heat and geothermal pumps would eliminate oil dependency, create jobs and new industries and clean the air. “By letting the utilities manage the program since they already have relationships with homeowners, no new government program is created,” says Vigue. “A 20-year loan could be paid back on a monthly basis just with the energy cost savings.”
Vigue also wants to develop offshore wind energy starting with a deepwater demonstration program that he hopes would transform the University of Maine into a research-and-development leader for renewable energy. Deploying up to 1,000 5-MW turbines could attract $15 billion in private capital and generate 5,000 to 25,000 new jobs, he claims.
To attract business and investment, Vigue wants to create a two-year revolving loan program to finance new facilities and equipment. Loan conversion would then allow payments in lieu of taxes, retiring the debt in 20 years.
Another part of the plan targets the state’s agriculture industry, with the idea of investing in infrastructure to make the state the food basket of the northeast. He also wants a virtual medical school by electronically linking medical centers with research-and-development programs. “Our 1.3 million residents are some of the unhealthiest people in the U.S., and 75% of all health-care costs are self-induced,” he says. “We could test programs over a short period of time and share the data with the U.S.”
Finally, Vigue wants to expand I-95 north to the Canadian border near Fort Kent to help develop road, rail and utility corridors throughout the state. “It’s all about connectivity and transportation is the key,” he says. “Lets link Atlantic Canada to Chicago using our Interstates by 2014.”
For now, oil still plays a big role in the state economy. The module-laden barge will depart in late March. Its cargo is part of a $7-billion Motiva Enterprises LLC refinery expansion in Texas. Vigue would like Maine to be on its way to energy independence when the Motiva job is complete in 2010.