LePage to Mass governor: Blocking regional natural gas expansion is ‘colossal mistake’

Posted Aug. 15, 2014, at 12:09 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 15, 2014, at 4:42 p.m.
Gov. Paul LePage
Gov. Paul LePage Buy Photo

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage is pressuring Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to show greater support for the expansion of natural gas infrastructure in New England, a project which all the other New England governors have supported.

Late last year, the six New England governors agreed to jointly ask ISO-New England, which is the regional overseer of the generation and sale of electricity, to begin technical work that was to lead to a formal request for proposals to increase the flow of natural gas from the Pennsylvania region either with a new pipeline or upgrades to existing infrastructure.

The governors argued that bringing natural gas to New England and using it to generate electricity would decrease electricity rates for homes and businesses and avoid what has been increasingly severe electricity rate spikes during the winter months.

The project would be paid for by the states collectively through their tariff contributions to ISO-New England. The costs would be passed on to ratepayers, though the theory is that all states would eventually see a net gain through lower electricity rates caused by the influx of cheaper natural gas to fuel the region’s power plants.

“It has come to my attention that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has decided not to continue additional natural gas capacity for New England,” said LePage to Patrick in a letter dated Thursday. “This is a colossal mistake. … New England needs additional natural gas capacity. Please join New England in increasing this critical infrastructure and reconsider your decision.”

Patrick Woodcock, who directs LePage’s energy office, said the overall goal is to bring a more stable supply of natural gas to generators, which have to rely on more expensive liquefied natural gas from overseas to maintain output when demand peaks.

The plan also calls for increased purchases of electricity from hydroelectric generators in Quebec, which according to news reports was one area that caused a problem in Massachusetts. Patrick, a Democrat, proposed a sweeping “clean energy” plan this year to increase purchases from Quebec and support the natural gas expansion, but the bill failed in the Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, and was seen as a major blow to the collaborative New England project.

Patrick’s office did not respond to a request from the BDN for comment on Friday.

Natural gas infrastructure expansion is one of the rare areas where LePage, the only Republican governor in New England, has found agreement with his peers. Patrick visited the state in July with Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, also a Democrat, to campaign for U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, LePage’s Democratic opponent in this year’s gubernatorial election.

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