Last week’s news that natural gas supply constraints will cause massive increases in energy costs for Massachusetts’s consumers—both residential and commercial alike—is a serious problem that needs more discussion among the gubernatorial candidates with a dialogue around long-term, sustainable solutions. As reported in Bruce Mohl’s “Energy Prices to Soar” the state (and the region’s) overreliance on natural gas is largely due to significant retirements of coal and oil generation and supply constraints.
There should be a healthy debate in the gubernatorial campaign around the infrastructure investment needed to deliver clean, affordable energy to customers. And that debate should include the role of clean energy imports, such as Canadian hydro, along with increasing amounts of distributed solar, in-region wind, combined heat and power, biomass, and other distributed resources. They are all a big part of the solution to the region’s energy challenges. Natural gas also has a role to play as an important environmental and economic bridge from the dirtiest energy sources to a clean energy economy. The ability to deliver additional natural gas supplies to the region will help to address electricity price volatility. (Click here for a CommonWealth story on what little the gubernatorial candidates are saying on energy.)
However, 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. As Massachusetts’ only indigenous energy resource and one that has become increasingly cost-effective as markets have grown over the years, renewable energy is poised to diversify electricity supply resources and make consumers less susceptible to volatile price fluctuations that the region is now experiencing. Other technologies like energy efficiency and demand response also play an important role, especially at times of peak demand.
Clean energy is truly at a tipping point in Massachusetts. The next governor should strive to enable clean energy markets that scale renewable energy to help achieve public policy goals that include providing in-region economic development and job growth, enhancing energy security and reducing energy price volatility, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We urge all of the candidates for governor to lay out their energy plans, and to commit to consistent policies that extend and expand renewable energy standards, financing mechanisms, community-scale distributed generation, new technologies, and the competitive procurement of large projects, to take advantage of clean energy’s economic, energy, and environmental benefits.
Peter Rothstein is president of the New England Clean Energy Council.