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Vermont, Quebec strengthen the bond


Vermont’s energy future has become a hand-wringing issue, tangled up in the uncertainty of power sources and worries about climate change.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest offered another opinion Friday, a more optimistic view. Just north of the border in his province, billions of dollars are being invested in renewable energy – hydro-electric and wind – and Quebec wants to increase its power exports.

Vermont, which relies on Hydro-Quebec for a third of its electricity, has been a longtime, valued customer and Quebec would expect to continue that relationship, Charest told an audience at Champlain College in Burlington. “We will be there in times of need for each other,” he said, referring to shared energy and environmental concerns.

Such words, albeit with no specific price tag or contract attached, send an encouraging message to Vermont.

The state needs to plan for the expiration of contracts with Hydro-Quebec in 2014 and Vermont Yankee, which supplies another third of our electricity, in 2012.

We need to be thinking beyond today, and many Vermonters are. In the gubernatorial campaign, Democratic challenger and wind-power proponent Scudder Parker is pushing energy as a centerpiece issue.

Friday’s symposium, with Charest sharing the stage with Gov. Jim Douglas, gave the governor a high-profile platform to highlight his own interest and to talk about the possibilities ahead.

That Vermont happens to be neighbors with the fourth-largest producer of hydro-electric power in the world is the good fortune of geography. That Vermont and Quebec have built a strong relationship takes more than good fortune – it takes work. This work must continue.

Charest and Douglas, who have established an easy rapport in the three years since Charest was elected, emphasized the bond at the event Friday. Questions were allowed during the session, but the time for them was short. The audience could have explored more questions surrounding a Vermont-Quebec energy partnership, such as the potential costs of buying power from Hydro-Quebec and the environmental concerns of expanding hydro in northern areas inhabited by native people, fish and wildlife.

Queries about wind power also could have used more airing. Douglas opposes “industrializing” Vermont’s ridgelines with massive wind turbines. Parker has said he would like to see turbines introduced to Vermont in stages, allowing time to gauge their effect. Friday, Douglas’ position on ridgeline development received a nod of support from Charest.

As Vermont looks at its energy future, Quebec is likely to play an important role. Vermonters should become engaged in the discussion and pay attention to Quebec. We need to keep the ties strong.