Governors and premiers of desperately energy-poor New England states and eastern Canadian provinces called on experts last week for advice on how to reduce their dependence on high-priced and diminishing supplies of oil, natural gas and coal.
From two days of workshops aimed at providing the region's political leaders with projects and polices to further alternative energy development, however, emerged only general resolutions that demonstrated the difficulty of regional cooperation and the still embryonic state of alternative energy.
Moreover, the experts complained that their hosts - six governors and five premiers don't really take alternative energy - whether it is solar, hydroelectric, wood or wind - seriously.
"The fundamental problem is that the coming crisis is further away than the next election," grumbled one participant.
"Is there a commitment to alternative energy on the part of our political leaders?" asked Joseph Levangie of the Northeast Solar Energy Center.
"There are political realities to be dealt with," answered Steven Millan of Canada's Department of Mines and Energy, in a statement echoed by others warning that any recommendations from this conference would be "blown out of the water" if the participants suggested giving one political jurisdiction in the area something its neighbors might covet.
Wallace Bowley of the University of Connecticut illustrated the difficulty of Washington's doing business with alternative energy proponents with a joke: "The federal government is an elephant and when it looks around for something to have intercourse with, it looks for another elephant. The solar energy business is a mouse."
Businessmen in the field began to express their frustration as the conference wound toward its conclusion and talk swung toward drafting a statement for the governors and premiers to issue that would stress there is an energy crisis.
"You know I find it depressing to have to prove to out premiers and governors that there is a crisis. This is ridiculous," said Robert Wygant, who runs Solar Energy Systems Inc. in Prince Edward Island.
The conference did come up with some recommendations, which will be submitted soon to the governors and premiers for delibration at the annual meeting of the political leaders in June.
As New Hampshire Gov. Meldrim Thompson Jr. made clear at the outset here, not all the political leaders are ready to throw all available support to alternative energy.
"This region will continue to be depressed until we solve the problems of energy," Thomson said. "What's practical is to continue to develop nuclear energy. We know it's clean and it's safe."
Alternative forms of energy, whether from water, wind, the sun or wood. Thomson said, are highly experimental. "We have not arrived at a point where any one of these justifies [large scale] development."
Again and again at the conference, sponsored by the New England Regional Commission and the Council of Maritime Premiers, people cited a pool taken in the United States last year.
"When half the country doesn't realize that we import oil, it becomes a real restriant on energy policy," said Harry Swaine of Canada's Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
Federal money, as at most conferences, was a major topic. These "mice" working on renewable energy sources are highly conscious of the federal monies that have been poured into subsidies of oil and nuclear development.
"If we took the federal money given to nuclear and burned it," Bowley joked, "we'd probably replace the amount the solar energy being used."
Ron Alward of the National Center for Appropriate Technology was one of a few who spoke of a future in which Americans and Canadians would not have all the energy they wanted available all the time. "You're going to have to adapt your use patterns to less stable supplies," he warned.
The question of big vs. small divided some participants. In the hydro workshop, George Baker, its cochairman, pointed to initial Canadian provincial and federal government approval of $30 million in planning to harness the tides in the Cumberland Basin of the Bay of Fundy.
The project, would ultimately cost $1.1 billion in 1976 dollars, Baker said, would produce 1,085 megawatts from the 36-foot mean tide.
Most other participants are interested in reviving 3,000 small dams throughout New England , which might provide 3,000 megawatts among them. Most of the dams were built for mills or other factories and fell into disuse over the last 50 years with the arrival of cheap oil and gas.
Rhode Island Gov. J. Joseph Garahy told the conference of Department of Energy plans to build a 200 foot-high wind turbine on Block Island. He made it clear that for him this windmill is a crucial test of wind power. "If it doesn't work on Block Island, it probably won't work at all," he said. Block Island has a mean wind velocity of almost 17 miles per hour.