New England governors pledge energy cooperation

Posted April 27, 2015, at 9:23 a.m.

New England governors pledged continued cooperation on what they all agree is a region-wide energy crisis, but offered no specific solutions after a meeting convened by Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in Hartford on Thursday.

The six governors in December 2013 issued a call for proposals to bring hydroelectric power from Quebec and a new natural gas pipeline into New England, through a process that would be coordinated by the New England States Committee on Electricity.

Sixteen months later, the governors had no progress to report on that initiative after emerging from their second energy summit.

When asked about the NESCOE plan and the fact that it has been held up in large part by the Massachusetts Legislature, Malloy alluded to the difficulties in implementing a regional solution.

“Everybody has their own legislature to deal with,” he said. “Some of us can do things through our Public Utilities boards that others can’t do. All of us would like to see us move in the direction of being legally able to coordinate our efforts to a higher degree, but that’s a state-by-state issue, just as there are certain siting issues that are state-by-state issues.”

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said the Department of Public Utilities in his state is launching a review of the NESCOE proposal and other issues associated with regional cooperation. “I prefer an all-options approach,” said Baker, “and if you are going to have an all-options approach you have to have a regional solution.”

New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan attended memorial services for Rockingham County Sheriff Michael Downing on Thursday, but was represented at the summit by Meredith Hatfield, director of the Office of Energy and Planning; and Public Utilities Commission Commissioner Robert Scott.

Hassan concurred with the statement issued by five governors who attended the meeting, including Baker and Malloy, along with Maine Gov. Paul R. LePage, Rhode Island Gov. Gina M. Raimondo, and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin.

“High energy costs have been a long-standing regional challenge, and today, I have joined my fellow New England governors in recommitting ourselves to addressing that challenge,” she said.

The governors released a document titled “A six-state action plan for a cleaner, more reliable and more affordable energy future,” but it did not lay out any specific actions to be taken on a regional basis.

Instead, it contained a potpourri of rhetorical statements like “The New England states continue to support clean energy investments,” and a list of various initiatives at the state level that are either in progress or under consideration regarding energy efficiency, renewables, and new transmission projects.

The governors did make clear that the high cost of electricity in the region has created a crisis that won’t likely be resolved by market forces alone.

Malloy referred to the fact that New Englanders collectively paid an extra $7.5 billion for electricity in the past two winters when compared to costs in 2012, the last year electricity pricing in the region was considered reasonable.

“The marketplace itself has not resolved this issue, and the marketplace just made an extra $7.5 billion in the past two years,” he told reporters after the summit. “That’s the situation we find ourselves in. How do we rectify a situation where the market may not be driving a solution because its walking away with an extra $7.5 billion.”

When pressed as to whether there is any single project now on the drawing board that the governors would support, Baker said, “All of us want to be careful about prejudging existing independent processes that all our states have to go through on this stuff. But I am in favor or projects that expand an existing right of way, rather than involving virgin territory.”

While acknowledging, “The economic, system reliability, and environmental consequences of inadequate energy infrastructure require action,” the governors are still not sure exactly what kind of regional action they can take, given different and sometimes conflicting interests among the six states.

 

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