REBECCA TEPPER, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, made an interesting impression at this week’s field hearing of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Maine.
In a crowd of nerdy bureaucrats, regulators, and business people who are largely convinced natural gas will remain the dominant energy fuel in New England for years to come, Tepper tacked in the opposite direction. She said the region’s power grid is over-reliant on natural gas, extolled the importance of offshore wind, and lectured members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on the need to listen to different voices.
But she also took a pass when asked if she wanted to shut down a piece of natural gas infrastructure in Everett and seemed unprepared for a question about using pricing signals to drive down electricity consumption.
One of the key topics at the all-day hearing was what to do with a terminal in Everett used for importing liquefied natural gas. The terminal has been hanging on by a thread and is in danger of going out of business. It was dealt a major blow when the operator of the region’s electric grid surprised everyone by saying it wasn’t needed anymore.
Most of those who testified at the hearing, including the grid operator, urged the retention of the Everett facility. Tepper suggested the commissioners weren’t listening to the right people.
“I think this hearing would have benefitted from some additional voices today, particularly the environmental justice community and particularly the community of Everett,” she said. ““Pay attention to them. They live there with that facility.”
FERC Commissioner Mark Christie asked Tepper whether Gov. Maura Healey supports keeping the Everett facility open. Tepper didn’t answer directly. “A lot of new information has come out on that issue over the last few months,” she said.
Tepper, who previously worked in the attorney general’s office under Healey, indicated the liquefied natural gas facility may be needed to support natural gas utilities. “It’s their responsibility to ensure that they serve their customers and they need to go to their regulators to ask for that,” she said.
Christie also asked Tepper whether Massachusetts has time-of-day pricing for electricity, which is used to reduce consumption of electricity by hiking prices at peak demand periods. Special smart meters capable of two-way communication are typically needed to execute on time-of-day pricing.
“In Massachusetts we don’t have smart meters yet, so we need to put in smart meters,” said Tepper, who then reversed course and said time-of-day pricing may not be needed.
“Virtual power plants are going to be a way for us to control the peak without having to do [anything] necessarily with the rates,” she said. “People are going to have storage in their house, they’re going to have storage in their car, they’re going to have solar on the roof. And that can be managed in a way to control the peak.”
Tepper ended the day by extolling the importance of offshore wind, even though two key developers are maneuvering to terminate their existing power purchase agreements because of changing economic conditions.
“I do agree with the sense of urgency to continue on our clean energy procurements and the benefits that we’re going to see from the offshore wind industry,” Tepper said. “I believe 100 percent that we will have an offshore wind industry off the coast, off the East Coast. It’s just too valuable. We have some of the best wind in the world, Saudi Arabia of wind here. It’s too valuable of a resource for it not to happen. So full press on offshore wind, full press on the transmission to support it, full press on the transmission to support clean energy, and full press on the tie lines to bring in renewables from other regions.”