A GROUP CALLED Consumers for Sensible Energy is refusing to say who is bankrolling the operation amid reports that the Newton-based organization is linked to a similar-type outfit in New Hampshire and possibly others around the country.
Consumers for Sensible Energy opposes the construction of new pipelines to bring more natural gas into the region. The organization has been active behind the scenes in marshalling opposition to new pipelines and its executive director, Andrew Savitz, has written three opinion pieces on the subject that appeared in CommonWealth magazine.
The organization was incorporated in Delaware in March 2016 and quickly hired former Massachusetts House speaker Charlie Flaherty’s lobbying firm and launched a number of campaigns. Through 2016 and the first six months of 2017, the organization spent a total of $225,000 on lobbying in Massachusetts and $1.4 million on advertising, public relations, grassroots organizing, and the hiring of other employees.
Savitz, who has worked in the private sector, state government, and most recently as director of sustainability for the city of Newton under Setti Warren, a Democratic candidate for governor, declined to say where the organization’s money is coming from. “Our donors are anonymous,” he said.
As a so-called 501(c)4 nonprofit organization, Consumers for Sensible Energy is not required to reveal its donors, who can pour unlimited amounts of money into causes with little or no scrutiny.
On its website, Consumers for Sensible Energy lists as allies such groups as the Conservation Law Foundation, the Environmental League of Massachusetts, the Mass. Energy Consumers Alliance, Environment Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Sierra Club, and Clean Water Action. Consumers for Sensible Energy reported in its lobbying filings that it paid the Mass. Energy Consumers Alliance ($5,010) and the Massachusetts Sierra Club ($3,667) to conduct grassroots organizing in 2016.
Larry Chretien, the president of the Mass. Energy Consumers Alliance, said he did not know where Consumers for Sensible Energy obtained its funding.
A story earlier this month in New Hampshire’s Union-Leader raised questions about who was providing financial support to a group called Protect the Granite State, which is opposed to Northern Pass, a project that seeks to import hydroelectricity from Quebec on a transmission line running through New Hampshire. The group declined to provide information on its donors, prompting Daniel Kreis, the head of New Hampshire’s Office of the Consumer Advocate, to tell the Union-Leader that consumers should be wary of the group’s claims. “That would be my advice to consumers,” he said. “Assume the worst.”
The Union-Leader article said Protect the Granite State and Consumers for Sensible Energy share many commonalities, including websites that are strikingly similar and ties to Patricia McCarron. McCarron, the president of the Yellin McCarron advertising agency, was listed as the president of Protect the Granite State in its incorporation papers. Her ad agency received payments of more than $1 million from Consumers for Sensible Energy in 2016.
The two groups also have shared employees – Adrienne Pereira worked for both, according to records – and an answering service. Pereira could not be reached for comment. Neither could Protect the Granite State.
Another publication, Miscellany: Blue, which touts itself as a progressive perspective on New Hampshire politics, reported on Tuesday that Protect the Granite State and five other advocacy groups in Virginia, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, and South Dakota all share language on their websites that is nearly identical. The story lumped Consumers for Sensible Energy into the group because of the report in the Union-Tribune.
The publication said all of the groups advocate for or against specific energy projects or legislation, but the groups are not always on the same side of an issue. The Virginia-based Coalition for Jobs and the Economy, for example, supports new natural gas pipelines, while Consumers for Sensible Energy opposes them.
“The connections among the groups suggest at least some level of coordination, if not funding, by a single entity,” said the article in Miscellany: Blue. “We took a look at the projects and legislation each group promotes (or opposes) and matched them to the energy companies that would benefit. That analysis – and a bit of stray metadata – makes a compelling case that the one company whose corporate initiatives align with each group’s advocacy work is the nation’s largest utility: NextEra Energy.”
NextEra Energy describes itself as the world’s largest utility, with solar, wind, natural gas, and nuclear operations across the country. In New England, it owns the Seabrook Station nuclear plant and the Wyman Station power plant in Maine.
NextEra would have an interest in blocking Northern Pass because it is partnering with Central Maine Power on a rival project to import hydroelectricity and wind power into New England. The company opposes new natural gas pipelines coming into New England because the arrival of more gas would have the potential to drive down the price of electricity and hurt the bottom line of the company’s power generating facilities.
Elsewhere, NextEra has a stake in the Mountain Valley Pipeline supported by the Virginia advocacy group and is aggressively pushing wind energy projects and in some cases tax breaks to support them in Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and North and South Dakota.
Officials at NextEra did not return phone calls.