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Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball, former prime minister Jean Chretien and New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant pose for a photo after lunch at a meeting of Atlantic premiers in Saint John, N.B. on Wednesday, April 12, 2017. Prince Edward Island Premier Wade MacLauchlan was not at the event but participated by telephone.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Atlantic Canada's premiers pledged Wednesday to grow the region's clean-energy sector, saying a new partnership will be developed this summer.

After a meeting in Saint John, N.B., New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant said the goal is to ensure the region has access to reliable green energy at competitive rates.

"It may mean there is more co-operation in buying and trading energy between our region," Gallant told a news conference. "It may mean that we are going to work together to export more to markets in the region or the United States."

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The new plan will address transmission capacity needs, look at ways of supporting the development of renewable energy sources, promote energy efficiency for the commercial and residential sectors, and explore opportunities for getting federal and private sector funding.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said there are economic benefits to ensuring green energy produced in Atlantic Canada can be exported to U.S. markets.

McNeil said that capacity is poised to grow through development of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador and tidal energy generation in the Bay of Fundy.

"It will be sizeable, stable energy sources ... that will allow us to have an export commodity that will actually bring back much needed revenue to invest in other things in the region," said McNeil.

The premiers said the energy partnership would also help the four Atlantic provinces achieve regional and national goals to reduce carbon emissions.

As well, McNeil said he is willing to discuss possible co-operation on carbon pricing.

However, he said such an approach could prove challenging.

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"We've been all working at different paces to continue to reduce our greenhouse gas output," he said. "Some of us have achieved it in different ways and at different levels, so it's hard at this point for all of us to start at the same point."

Gallant agreed the four provinces have more work to do.

"We would recognize the benefits if we could all have the same system, but we also are realistic and we recognize that we all have different economic realities and challenges," he said.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball said his province is focused on reining in its massive deficit, now at $778-million.

"We will be participating," said Ball. "But ... our first year in office was really about strengthening the financial foundation of our province."

Prince Edward Island Premier Wade MacLauchlan did not attend the meeting – the fifth involving Atlantic Canadian premiers in less than a year.

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At their most recent meeting in Corner Brook, N.L., in February, the four provinces pledged to strengthen trade ties with the United States as President Donald Trump looks to rearrange his country's trade deals, including the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The premiers also discussed efforts to reduce health costs.

Record temperatures continue to take a heavy toll on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, with a new aerial survey showing grim images of bleached-out coral for miles around – and slim prospects for recovery.
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