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Power on, NESCOE

By: Telegram.com |

The purpose of the New England States Committee on Electricity (NESCOE) is straightforward, including, in the words of their regional cooperation statement, the advancement of “a regional energy infrastructure initiative that diversifies our energy supply portfolio while ensuring that the benefits and costs of transmission and pipeline investments are shared appropriately among the New England States.”

But a year of study, meetings and cooperation has been interrupted by an apparent split among the six states over a dual strategy that calls for development of more natural gas pipelines and importing additional Canadian hydropower.

Maine, Connecticut and Rhode Island are urging NESCOE to stay the course, but the governors of Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts are adopting a more cautious approach.

New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan is opposed to a new transmission line for hydropower proposed for the Granite State. Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin is wary of infrastructure investments that may not be needed. And Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick seems torn between his penchant for pushing green energy and a recognition that more hydropower is needed, at least in the short term.

Krista Selmi, a spokeswoman for the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, told the Associated Press Massachusetts is committed to working with other states but “we really do need to look at what our needs are at this point.”

We are unclear what that means, but there’s no mistaking the region’s increases in retail energy costs, which soared to $8 billion in 2013, from $5.2 billion in 2012 — a 54 percent increase.

Nor is there much doubt in an Aug. 21 letter from the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company to NESCOE, which stated “the need to expand the region’s natural gas infrastructure is urgent,” as shown by NESCOE studies.

“The urgency of this need,” MMWEC writes, “is bolstered by experience over the past two winters, which brought the region serious electric reliability challenges and unnecessary economic hardship, which will continue until new natural gas infrastructure is constructed.”

While NESCOE is a six-way partnership, Massachusetts plays an outsized role, as our state consumes about half New England’s electricity.

The coalition had been eyeing a plan calling for energy tariffs to pay for the infrastructure improvements, and, until this delay, appeared to be on track to present that plan to regional energy companies and users early next month.

Asking New Englanders to pay for energy improvements that will benefit New Englanders is reasonable.

NESCOE has worked long and hard to advance the region’s energy future. A pause now to hunt for cleaner or greener solutions that may be nowhere in sight can only retard progress toward meeting New England’s common energy goals.