Beaton pushes hydroelectricity and gas

Differs with attorney general on need for pipeline

THE BAKER ADMINISTRATION made clear on Tuesday that its ideal combo platter for energy has two main dishes – hydroelectricity from Canada and a new natural gas pipeline.

Matthew Beaton, the governor’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said both options are needed to rein in electricity costs, achieve greenhouse gas reduction targets, and maintain the reliability of the region’s power grid.

For months, the Baker administration’s primary energy focus has been the importation of Canadian hydroelectricity, enough to at least cover a fifth of the state’s power needs. Indeed, administration officials have often tried to win allies among opponents of new natural gas pipelines by saying support for hydroelectricity would reduce the need for new pipelines.

But with the massive Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal now on the ropes, Beaton told four state senators on Tuesday that new natural gas pipeline infrastructure is a Baker priority. “We are in desperate need of more natural gas capacity,” Beaton said. “We can’t rely on the pipes we have presently.”

Beaton said additional natural gas pipeline capacity will ease supply shortages during peak winter demand periods, reduce electricity price spikes, and curb greenhouse gas emissions by eliminating the need for power plants to burn oil when gas is in short supply.

Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton said he was under the impression the administration favored hydroelectricity imports because they would make new natural gas pipelines unnecessary. Beaton said that wasn’t the case. He said hydroelectricity imports mean “less reliance on natural gas, not no natural gas.”

Secretary Mathew Beaton testifies before (l to r) Sens. Michael Barrett, Marc Pacheco, Jamie Eldridge, and Ben Downing.

Secretary Matthew Beaton testifies before (l to r) Sens. Michael Barrett, Marc Pacheco, Jamie Eldridge, and Ben Downing.

Pacheco and his colleagues Michael Barrett of Lexington, Ben Downing of Pittsfield, and Jamie Eldridge of Acton serve on the Senate’s Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change. They are all opposed to or wary of expanding the region’s gas pipeline infrastructure.  They pointed to a study conducted for Attorney General Maura Healey that said additional gas pipelines were unnecessary.

The study found that the region’s power system would remain reliable through 2030 even with no action being taken by policymakers. Under a worst-case scenario, where weather is much colder than expected and the supply of some fuels is disrupted, the study found there could be some modest power shortages for 26 hours over nine very cold days in 2029 and 2030.

The attorney general’s study examined a number of options to address the worst-case scenario, including building new gas pipelines. The study concluded the best approach for ratepayers and the environment was investing in energy efficiency and programs that require customers to reduce usage of electricity during peak-demand periods.

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About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Beaton said the attorney general’s study relied on a number of assumptions – including ambitious targets for energy efficiency efforts – that are unrealistic. He noted Massachusetts is already the US leader among states in energy efficiency.

But Rebecca Tepper, deputy chief of Healey’s energy and environment bureau, told the senators the projections are not unrealistic when compared to what countries in Europe are doing. “We’re behind all of Europe,” she said. “We get it that we’re all working really hard on energy efficiency, but what would it look like if we double down?”

Tepper was also critical of efforts to make the customers of electric utilities pay for a new natural gas pipeline. Both Eversource and National Grid are seeking Baker administration approval to charge their electricity customers to help finance the Access Northeast natural gas pipeline, which would be built by Spectra Energy of Houston and the two utilities. The legality of such a financing arrangement goes before the state Supreme Judicial Court this week.