THIS WEEK THE New England governors will meet in Connecticut to discuss potential solutions to one of our region’s most serious economic challenges: the high cost of electricity and energy.

This is not a new threat as the region has always been at the end of the traditional energy pipeline, costing ratepayers top dollar for fuel imported for electricity, heating, and transportation. But today’s energy market and system is dramatically different and requires new thinking about how to truly solve the regional energy challenges we face today and in the future.

In recent years, two important trends—natural gas and clean energy—have changed the region’s energy mix. These trends have contributed to declining energy bills—until last winter—and made positive impacts on the region’s economy and a cleaner electricity system.  Recent electricity price spikes in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire were due to natural gas supply constraints from the previous winter, causing many to rush to a natural gas only solution, focused on new pipelines. However, this winter was a different story, with low oil prices, increased fuel storage, and timing of cold weather/peak usage that avoided natural gas supply constraints and a repeat of last year’s dramatic price spikes.

The region, however, remains faced with significant supply constraints due to the retirements of large electricity generating facilities and a lack of traditional in-region energy sources. Some natural gas expansion may be needed, but it is by no means the magic bullet solution and with a tripling of natural gas dependence in recent years, a natural gas only solution will further ratepayers’ vulnerability to price fluctuations. Instead, the New England governors must prioritize diversification with cost-effective clean energy resources as a significant part of the mix. Any investments in gas infrastructure must be thoroughly analyzed under a number of scenarios and in comparison with clean energy alternatives to ensure that the region is not investing in infrastructure that will put New England on a path away from a clean energy future or lead to “stranded” investment.

Additionally, the governors must look for solutions that can provide relief to ratepayers today. The ability to deliver additional natural gas supplies to the region may help electricity prices five years from now, when a new pipeline could realistically be built and operational, but there are cost-effective solutions—like energy efficiency, demand response, and distributed solar—that can be implemented today to provide immediate relief to customers and protect them from volatile fossil fuel energy costs by next winter. These resources also have long-term economic benefits, including avoiding costly investments in other generation, grid, transmission and distribution assets. Large clean energy resources such as onshore wind, hydro, combined heat and power, and biomass can be a cost-effective solution to the region’s energy challenges for the near to medium term, and offshore wind can play an important role in the longer term. But these options require today’s political leaders to think past the immediate future and to do the right thing for our region’s long-term, evolving, sustainable energy system.

The governors need to consider all the costs of energy infrastructure investments, with decisions grounded in a comprehensive analysis of both costs and benefits.  It is misguided to fail to take into account ratepayer benefits of clean energy resources, as well as the societal, environmental and economic benefits associated with diversifying our energy portfolio with clean energy. A narrow focus only on the costs of the region’s clean energy programs will only show part of the picture and will not contribute to a constructive dialogue around how to genuinely invest in infrastructure that will create a long-term sustainable energy system for ratepayers.

Our energy system is at an exciting turning point. The New England governors have an opportunity to continue the region’s leadership in creating a sustainable energy future and show how a combination of smart clean energy policies and private-sector innovations can spur a dramatic change, creating an energy system that combines customer benefits (of lower and more predictable energy bills) with clean energy growth and thousands of new jobs that benefit our region today and decades in the future.

Peter Rothstein is president of the New England Clean Energy Council.

4 replies on “New England governors should lead region to a sustainable energy future”

  1. Much of this is contrary the warnings issued by others with knowledge of this field:

    “New environmental requirements to reduce carbon emissions through renewable portfolio standards and the regional greenhouse gas initiative will most likely introduce additional costs. Price pressures resulting from these new environmental goals coupled with price pressures from our growing reliance on natural gas raise concerns about the long-term economic impact on our region.” – Gordon van Welie, CEO ISO-NE, 2008

    “Integrating more renewables into the US grid will be costly and have unintended consequences, including potential for increased carbon emissions, that policymakers need to plan for, warns a new Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative study.

    The study, unveiled Monday, looked at what needs to be done to accommodate increasing percentages of renewables on electricity grids, said MITEI head Ernest Moniz.

    The study’s message for policymakers and regulators is that intermittent sources will cost more for total operations, and they have to decide who is going to pay for it – a message that is “not popular,” conceded MIT Professor John Deutch.” – MIT Symposium on Large Scale Integration of Renewables – 2012

  2. With all due respect, Mr. Rothstein, I ask you and your readers to answer some key questions:

    What constitutes “Clean Energy”?

    Who defines “Clean Energy” and how is it defined?

    Does an energy source that pollutes the air – as industrial wind power plants do – fall in the category of “Clean Energy”?

    Did you know that many indsutrial wind turbine operations have been found to violate Ma Noise Regulations (air pollution via excessive noise)…and not by a little? How can this be “Clean”?

    I think it important to steer clear of misleading labels …such as wind energy is “clean energy” when the facts have proven otherwise…

    NOTE: the NOISE issues are but one adverse impact associated with industrial wind development – look to NASA research which has been hidden away or “disappeared” by the wind industry and ignored by government officials who champion wind at all costs to understand that industrial wind is NOT a clean energy source at all and the term itself is in need of some serious scrutiny.

  3. I would like to offer more evidence of the fact that industrial wind turbine power plant operations and emissions can not in any way be defined as “Clean” energy. Also note that based on similar acoustic testing performed out in Wisconsin – the Brown County Wisconsin Board of Health Commissioners declared, back in October or 2014, that “industrial wind turbines to be a hazard to human health”

    More evidence has been documented right here in Massachusetts – Falmouth to be exact. Other Massachusetts resdients have asked for infra-sound and low frequency testing to be done in their homes – but have been denied the appropriate investigation to document the harmful pressure waves which are below the threshold of hearing yet have adverse impacts on human and animal health and well-being. This is just one of the wind industry’s dirty little secrets. Perhaps Mr. Rothstein would like to address the wind industry’s subversion of evidence of harm?

  4. Marie Jane says: “This week the New England governors will meet in Connecticut to discuss potential solutions to one of our region’s most serious economic challenges: the high cost of electricity and energy.”
    Perhaps, the best place for the New England region Governors to start is to compute the true costs of, as you say, “diversifying our energy portfolio with clean energy”.
    We know there are proven health implications with costs/loss of quality of life. We know there are negative environmental impacts; the destruction of millions of years old mountains and hundreds of years old mature forests both irreplaceable, one forever, the other may regenerate in two lifetimes (this to “plant” 500 foot, and growing, industrial wind turbines with a life expectancy of possibly 20 – 30 years); hard to believe New England Governors would allow this or consider this because we have so many energy options available to us. We know that there are property value declines. We know that Green Communities Act is a costly experiment with narrow focus and unrealistic goals. We know that public funds are being spent unwisely to further the industrial wind turbine agenda with little transparency or accountability.
    I think the Governors of New England must review and rethink the entire “energy portfolio”, start with a clean slate and come up with realistic goals for present and future and economically sound solutions. “Visions” are not sustainable, but they
    are very costly as has been proven.

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