TO SAY THAT this has been a tough winter is an understatement. Already, we’ve seen record cold snaps, soaring energy bills and story after story about how Massachusetts has burned 2 million barrels of oil to generate electricity because we didn’t have an adequate supply of energy. And it’s only February.
Already, Massachusetts is one of the costliest states in which to do business – and one of the reasons is that our region pays the highest electricity prices in the continental United States. Every winter, a lack of reliable energy leaves New Englanders paying an estimated $1 billion in increased costs – more when temperatures drop.
That’s why last week, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts joined a coalition of business and civic leaders in Massachusetts to deliver a simple message to policymakers: our state is running out of energy.
How is this possible? Didn’t we just pass a sweeping renewable energy bill less than two years ago? Yes. Here’s the problem: we are retiring older power plants faster than we can build cleaner new ones.
Don’t take it from me. ISO-New England, the region’s grid operator and gold standard on these issues recently concluded in its Operational Fuel-Security Analysis: “Energy shortfalls due to inadequate fuel would occur with almost every fuel-mix scenario in winter 2024/2025.” It goes on to conclude that “emergency actions that would be visible to the public range from requests for energy conservation to … rolling blackouts.”
Even still, some refuse to acknowledge we even have a problem. In a column in Commonwealth, Kathryn Eiseman argued that ISO-New England’s is negatively slanting its analysis – and that associations like mine were “front groups” trying to “sustain” the natural gas industry.
Hardly. Representing 4,000 retail businesses across the Commonwealth, the only thing our members are trying to sustain is their ability to compete in Massachusetts as rising energy costs and reliability concerns make it harder and harder to make ends meet.
Natural gas is no panacea – it’s one alternative. But it’s an important one. Natural gas is clean (responsible for the vast majority of our emissions declines since 1990). It’s reliable. And we can have more of it within five years as renewables represent an increasingly larger share of our fuel mix in the decades ahead.
The irony is that instead of paying through the nose for oil and coal, we could be investing in those dollars in next generation energy technology that lowers transportation emissions, which account for 40 percent of all carbon emissions in Massachusetts.
During the last cold snap alone, ratepayers paid half a billion dollars in added costs to generate electricity in New England. With the $120 million that was spent on oil over the course of 15 days, we could buy and install 2,000 rapid recharge stations for electric vehicles in New England. That is the kind of common sense approach we should be taking – building a sustainable energy future powered by innovation and a diverse mix of affordable, reliable clean energy sources.
Boston—and Massachusetts—has an energy problem. And the sooner we acknowledge it and take steps the address it, the sooner businesses in the Commonwealth will be ready to turn it into an opportunity.
Jon Hurst is the president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, representing more than 4,000 retail businesses across the state.