Pipeline Debates Delay Solutions for Electricity Costs in Massachusetts, Other New England States
Consumers in Massachusetts and across New England are complaining about rate hikes affecting their electric bills, and some are so severe that standby advice like switching to a programmable thermostat to control heating and cooling costs (reducing them up to 10%) are unlikely to make a difference.
According to a March 10 story on Boston’s NPR station, electricity rates in that area have risen by up to 40%. The reason, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker says, is that the region doesn’t have enough capacity in its natural gas pipelines.
Natural gas — which is burned to generate most of the region’s electricity — is piped in either from states in the South or from Canada. But that gas is prioritized for heating, which means that cold weather can deprive electricity generation sites of gas, sending prices up. That why even though the wholesale price of natural gas has gone down this season, prices for consumers have gone up.
That’s just one reason increasing pipeline capacity is sure to be a topic of debate at the upcoming energy summit Baker is hosting for multiple New England governors.
Those who support increasing pipeline capacity say that it’s a fairly simple economic proposition: Since building new pipelines will allow for increased supply, consumer prices should drop dramatically.
But even those who agree that more pipeline provides a viable solution can’t agree on how much, exactly, is needed, and efforts to actually plan for expansion have hit roadblocks on several levels.
That’s largely because environmental activists claim there are safer, greener and cheaper ways to solve New England’s energy problems than piping in more natural gas. Few viable solutions, however, have made significant progress.
In the meantime, therefore, consumers might need to think about programmable thermostats — or other common electricity-saving strategies such as turning electronics off or to sleep mode — to get them through the winter.