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My Turn: On energy, governors preparing to repeat mistakes of the past

Recently, the New England States Committee on Electricity, which represents the six New England states and its governors on regional electricity issues, proposed an initiative that would socialize the cost of natural gas pipeline expansion as well as transmission lines associated with large-scale hydropower imports from Canada. The initiative has been rightfully met with abundant scrutiny and skepticism.

For the past few years, natural gas prices have been rising and, along with escalating electricity costs, have made New England less attractive to new businesses as well as for expansion of existing businesses. Limited pipeline capacity caused drastic price spikes that saw electricity prices average $132 per megawatt hour this winter – forcing some companies to shut down because of the high energy costs. While pipeline expansion might provide some temporary relief, it will not reduce our overreliance on natural gas for electricity generation – now at roughly 50 percent.

Unfortunately, the past is coming back to haunt us. Policies enacted over the past decade have favored “green” energy initiatives like 30 percent production/investment tax subsidies to wind and solar, state-funded rebates for distributed generation, Renewable Portfolio Standards and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, among others. These policies have distorted the market and provided little incentive for base-load power generators to invest in New England.

Elected officials have pushed valuable nuclear and coal generators to the sidelines without providing us with any real solutions for replacing their power.

The six New England governors are right in recognizing that we have a serious problem regarding the future reliability and cost of electricity in the region, but they are right for the wrong reasons.

They are too concerned with meeting renewable energy mandates – all created by them (and their predecessors) with no thought as to how these policies might impact ratepayers. It is the result of the policies of elected officials that have left the region handcuffed.

Often behind these policies are the environmental nonprofits, who cheer when reliable power plants providing thousands of megawatts of electricity get shut down, and they fight projects like Northern Pass, which can at least compensate for some of the power loss. They push billion dollar boondoggles like Cape Wind where ratepayers will pay billions for overpriced power.

Worst of all, these groups are directly responsible for writing much of the overbearing, expensive and economically damaging legislation that is driving up costs for every ratepayer in the region.

Environmental and regulatory restrictions will prevent new coal or nuclear plants from entering the region any time soon; pipeline expansion proposals have and will be opposed by environmental groups and will no doubt result in lawsuits – presumably arguing that increased fossil fuel use will violate policies like Massachusetts’ 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act or RGGI.

NIMBYs don’t want windmills or Canadian hydro. What’s left? Expensive rooftop solar panels that operate 15 percent of the time? That isn’t going to keep the lights on or incent businesses to come to the region.

In this environment, our elected officials need to “do something” and are hoping that ratepayers bail them out. But why NESCOE would dangle the carrot of ratepayer subsidy for Canadian hydropower is truly perplexing.

There is no need to subsidize hydro imports for any of the proposed projects.

The Northern Pass project is capable of providing 1,200 megawatts of affordable, reliable base load power without tax or ratepayer subsidy.

However, opposition to transmission towers in New Hampshire’s North Country has led to demands of burial, delays and threats of future litigation – which appears to be driving the NESCOE proposal. Even worse, as reported earlier this year, this plan could lead to the use of eminent domain to Northern Pass developers and once again wreak havoc in the North Country.

What we are left with is the status quo of continually rising electricity prices and growing opposition to any infrastructure. Yet, the proposed solution is more government-led initiatives and mandates? Do we really trust the same group of people who have led us to the edge of the cliff to turn us around instead of jumping off?

So what should we do? NESCOE, with ISO’s assistance, should take a long, hard look at the electricity markets (capacity and energy) and evaluate what causes a plant like Vermont Yankee and its 600 megawatts of carbon-free, reliable, base load power to leave the market and a project like Cape Wind and its $0.25 per kilowatt hour electricity to enter.

If New England’s six governors really want to fix things, they should look at the mistakes of the past and freeze or outright repeal the very policies that have led us down this road. At the very least they should make every effort to avoid the same path of energy mandates, subsidized, favored energy solutions and legislative hurdles that prevent energy infrastructure from being built.

(Marc Brown is the executive director of the New England Ratepayers Association.)

Legacy Comments15

Well I cabn answer one of Mr. Brown's questions -".....and evaluate what causes a plant like Vermont Yankee and its 600 megawatts of carbon-free, reliable, base load power to leave the market....." That is an easy question, the owners of Vt. Yankee couldn't compete on price with natural gas powered plants. Simple mathematics, no big secret here.

The NE grid has at best 4 years to replace the energy lost through the closing of VT Yankee and liberal govt forcing the closing of other plants. If a reader thinks that the Grid can continue to import 1,400 megawatts from Indian Point - think again - NY liberals are trying to shut down that plant too. I already have my other home out of the region to flee to - do you? GET READY FOR THE NE POWER SHORTAGE -

Mr. Brown and his group, New England Ratepayers Association, are a murky group as to their origin and funding. This leads one to surmise that the group--despite its name, is an astroturf, rather than an authentically grass-roots organization. The fact the group refuses to disclose how many members it has, nor where its sources of funding come from is in sharp contrast to, for example, the Conservation Law Foundation. What we do know is that Brown previously worked for "Freedom Works", the Tea Party affiliated, Koch Brothers funded organization. Prior to forming this group, Brown was also actively involved in leading the opposition to Cape Wind-- also with the secretive backing of fossil fuel interests. One has to wonder why secrecy regarding both the origin and membership of this impressively named group is necessary, which also leads one to wonder who Mr. Brown really represents, ratepayers, or those with a vested interest in our continued reliance on fossil fuels?

Bruce...thanks for researching the background of this organization. I was wondering where all its negativism (about alternate sources) was coming from. Coincidence that "Marc; and the Koch supported 'Scott' are both Browns? Related or just a common name?

So what? Media Matters is astroturf...... The Tea Party is not a political party, it is comprised of "CITIZENS", United State Citizens who have the same rights as you or me or Bruce. Soros funds groups which I don't agree with and they put out statistics and studies that are 'murky'. The Sandler's do the same thing.

The difference between Soros and the Kochs is that Soros is very public about how he spends his money. The Koch brothers, by contrast, operate secretively, especially now that "dark money" has been green-lighted by the SCOTUS. The "Tea Party" is indeed composed of citizens, but it received a substantial boost and a kick-start from both the Koch brothers and Dick Armey/Karl Rove. You've mis-used the term 'astro-turf' in your response, as well. Media Matters is not a lobbying group, nor does it claim to represent any particular constituency such as "ratepayers".

Have you ever heard of Act Blue. That is the top Democratic donor. You suggest that the Tea Party is funded by the Koch brothers, I guess you want them to NOT have a voice. How else are they going to be heard??? It takes money to compete with a press that is not doing their job but instead are shills for progressives. And Media Matters is a propaganda organization......and their constituency are those with a progressive ideology and agenda.

So, are OK with the richest brothers in the world have great financial influence on every state in the US. So, when they, for instance, want interstate roads made extremely strong to carry the load of their trucks and cement-beyond what would be needed for typical trailers AND they want the rest of us to pay for support them.? When they, for instance, want to increase their fertilizer output, you are OK with building roads to get their product to farmers quicker?

Yes, I would trust them over any progressive any day. Your accusations have no founding they are conjecture. They are libertarians who think that government has too much power and they are right. would trust a Koch over what you term a 'progressive'. You have no knowledge of either. What 'power' does NH government have that you consider to be 'too much'. And, be as specific as possible, no flights of fantasy, please.

Opposed cape wind? you sure the kennedys were not doing the funding?

Brucie is following the Liberal playbook 100% - When you cant debate the issue or the facts - demean and destroy the messenger - A really awful way to exist

I made no comment regarding the accuracy of Mr. Brown's claims, merely suggested they be taken with a grain of salt given the murky origins of his group.

I suggested in my original post that Mr. Brown's claims should be taken with a grain of salt, given the murky origins of his group and its funding sources--it seems to have all the ingredients of an astro-turf group.But as for his "facts", to cite two: he claims that RGGI has "distorted the market", an ironic claim to make about a market-based program, and one that can only be made if one believes that carbon should not be taxed in some way--whether directly or in some cap and trade fashion. To believe that, one has to reside in the never-never land of the denier/Tea Party far right that makes things up. There is ample evidence that RGGI is working as intended. Brown also distorts the facts when he implies/suggests that RGGI and other green initiatives are responsible for both the closure of Vermont Yankee and the absence of new nukes or other base-load power-plants. And he gives the game away in his first paragraph, when he complains about NESCOE's pipeline proposal "socializing" the cost of natural gas pipeline expansion. If private industry won't build it, then the costs will have to be "socialized"-- our tax dollars at work. Brown is trying to have it both ways-- complaining about a supposed lack of long term planning, then grumbling about part of NESCOE's long term plan because he doesn't like how it will be paid for. Which is it--no long term plan, or the fact it's a public plan rather than a private one?

I keep saying that when enough people get a $1200/month electric bill, something will happen...not a moment before.

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