Baker right on hydropower, clean energy contracts

More natural gas capacity is also needed

DAN DOLAN’S broadside against Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposal to bring additional hydropower into our electricity market reminds me of the time when the New England power generators essentially told me the lights would go out and the sky would fall if Massachusetts joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). That was 2007 and RGGI has been clearly a net plus both for the environment and for our economy as it has funded our nation-leading energy efficiency investments and helped keep prices down in the energy markets.

In response to such hyperventilation about hydropower, I feel compelled to set the record straight: Properly negotiated contracts for additional hydropower are vitally important to further diversifying our electric power mix.  The same is true for additional wind power contracts – indeed, the most recent round of new wind contracts, done in 2013, are money savers for ratepayers. The Legislature should move forward on Baker’s proposals on hydropower and ignore the noise from fossil fuel power generators who stand to lose revenue as Massachusetts secures more long-term contracts for clean energy.


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As we look ahead, we need to continue to diversify our low carbon energy resources.  What does that entail?

  • First, we have to keep pushing on energy efficiency – it should always be the first fuel because it is the cheapest. The Legislature was prescient in 2008 when it put in place the Green Communities Act framework to prioritize efficiency with the utilities as key players. We are now five years as the No. 1 state in the nation on efficiency. The program is working and deserves continued investment.
  • Second, we need more long-term contracts for clean energy – this means more hydro and more wind. Projects like the TDI hydro transmission project in Vermont have won broad support from environmentalists and state regulators and are ready to move forward promptly. Maine is a vast repository of wind projects that are available to meet our power needs, as First Wind/SunEdison has already demonstrated in previous contracts entered into with Massachusetts utilities.
  • Third, we need to continue to help the solar industry become a primary source of power for decades to come – it is the one power generation technology that holds the promise to be ubiquitous, taking root on rooftops across the Commonwealth. State incentives for solar energy are due for restructuring and the solar industry would welcome a well-structured framework that supports long-term growth.
  • Fourth, we need to continue to be a beacon for still emerging technologies in clean energy. General Electric’s decision to move its headquarters to Boston was made in no small measure because of our leadership in developing and deploying clean energy technology as a top economic priority.  The clean energy sector now employs a remarkable 100,000 Massachusetts workers.  The downtown business community is still woefully slow to embrace clean energy as a pillar of our state’s innovation economy.  Perhaps GE, a world leader in advanced energy technology, can open the eyes of local business leaders to the opportunity here.
  • Fifth, and finally, yes, we do need additional natural gas capacity. Natural gas for the past several decades has been the fuel of choice for environmental regulators because it helps get us off coal and oil for power generation. We need ample supply to guard against electricity and home heating price spikes and provide resiliency and redundancy to our energy infrastructure. That is not to say that we should not hold additional fossil fuel power generation to a high standard in terms of siting and environmental impacts, including greenhouse-gas reduction under RGGI. We should. But curtailing additional supply of the gas commodity as if it itself represented some uncontrollable environmental threat is wrong-headed.
Governor Baker is, by and large, pursuing the right priorities on energy policy.  His push on hydropower, wind contracts, and solar energy growth and his push to achieve our state’s greenhouse gas reduction mandate are all right on the money. My recommendation to the Legislature is to ignore those voices that seek to muddy the waters and move forward on these key fronts.

Ian Bowles is managing director of WindSail Capital Group LLC.  He served as secretary of energy and environmental affairs from 2007 to 2011 under Gov. Deval Patrick.