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Ex-consul discusses regional power flow

HALIFAX – Canada’s recently departed Consul General to New England says Atlantic Canada’s premiers are working hard to tap the American energy market.

But Neil LeBlanc says a number of major hurdles must still be cleared before large quantities of renewable energy are flowing from eastern Canada to the New England states.

In an interview Monday, LeBlanc said the premiers have done well in selling their energy message in New England. “But it’s not as simple as saying, ‘We’re here. Come buy from us.’ There are some issues … that are in competition with Canada’s goals,” said the former Nova Scotia finance minister, whose four-year posting in Boston ended earlier this month.

For instance, the New England states want to have energy independence and grow their energy supply in-house. That’s particularly true in Massachusetts, says LeBlanc, where efforts are underway to boost renewable energy production – especially involving wind power.

Simply put, the Canadian premiers are not alone in wanting to capture the “wealth and jobs” that come along with developing energy projects.

LeBlanc also notes that Atlantic Canada is not the only area looking to pounce on the energy needs of New England. For example, there are states in the American Midwest that want to build transmission lines to New England and pump in their own power.

“We’re an obvious player in the market, but we’re not the only player,” LeBlanc said from his home base in Yarmouth County, N.S., where he has returned to the family-run fish and lobster wholesale company he started in 1993, N. LeBlanc Enterprises Ltd.

Another problem, notes LeBlanc, is the lack of transmission capacity needed to actually carry the excess power from eastern Canada to the U.S. Currently there is a bottleneck in the power lines that flow over the border, he says.

“Even if you had the power, the question is: how do you get it there? Nothing happens quickly,” he said.

Despite those snags, LeBlanc contends Canada still figures prominently in providing New England with clean, renewable energy at reasonable prices.

And New England is not without its own problems, he added. LeBlanc points to the years of debate and wrangling over the Cape Wind project, which involves building America’s first offshore wind farm – 130 wind turbines off Cape Cod.

The delay of such projects, he contends, reveals the opportunity for eastern Canada.

“There is time for the Atlantic provinces and Quebec to put their best foot forward. We have a lot of natural resources here, which we can hopefully take advantage of,” he said. “It’s a win-win situation if we can do it.”

LeBlanc, a former Progressive Conservative politician in Nova Scotia, was appointed consul general to New England in August 2006.

He is being replaced by former Conservative P.E.I. premier Pat Binns, who has served as ambassador to Ireland since 2007.

The consul general position involves promoting Canadian trade and investment, and lobbying on behalf of the Canadian provinces in New England.

LeBlanc said his time in the post was “wonderful,” but not without its challenges.

“I come from a small province where it didn’t take long to know most of the players,” he said. “But Massachusetts alone has eight million people. It was a much bigger pond and it was challenging to get known. It took a while. But it was a good experience.”