New Englanders spent $5 billion in electricity last winter, compared to $5.2 billion for all of 2012. That's why each of the New England states has introduced legislation in their respective states to address the problem of rising electricity prices. But environmental advocacy groups are worried this regional collaboration would promote unnecessary natural gas projects.
The Rhode Island legislation would encourage, among a few things, a coordinated regional investment of building new gas pipelines. The governor's office and proponents of the bill say this kind of expansion would lower heating and electricity costs. But Jerry Elmer, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), said the region could address these rising costs without building new pipelines.
“Our concern here is that if New England commits to these very, very large purchases of additional gas pipeline infrastructure, we’d be locking in purchases of fossil fuels for decades to come,” said Elmer.
Elmer says that would set back the state from meeting its goal of lowering carbon emissions.
"But what they’re really talking about doing is entering into out-of-market, long-term contracts of unspecified costs," said Elmer. "[The legislation] really provides for unspecified amounts of new fossil fuel gas pipeline infrastructure, but it doesn’t say how much, it doesn’t say how much it would cost."
The Conservation Law Foundation recently filed an appeal with the Attorney General's office. CLF requested information about the financial and environmental implications for the extension of natural gas pipelines from the governor's office. According to Elmer, much of the information was withheld and redacted.
Marion Gold, energy commissioner with the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, said constraints with the existing natural gas pipeline are behind these rising prices. She said the legislation, recently passed by a house committee and held back for further study by a senate committee, would keep the door open for opportunities to address those infrastructure problems.
“The bill does not lock the state into anything, but it does allow us to continue to explore infrastructure expansion as one possible solution, and that will include looking at opportunities to make sure that we are fully using existing pipeline capacity – we will do that.”
Gold said the New England states do not want to overbuild expensive pipelines nor do they want the economy choked by high energy prices. She said the legislation will be subject to a robust and transparent stakeholder process including a rigorous environmental review.
"My office is a strong advocate of energy efficiency and renewable energy but we don't want to overpromise - we need to explore all options at hand to reduce energy costs," said Gold.
This post has been updated.
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