What’s happened to CLF?

Comments about Northern Pass are out of line

CONSERVATION LAW FOUNDATION was once a respected organization that worked with utilities and government to help move the region away from oil and coal to cleaner natural gas and renewable energy and make Massachusetts the national leader in energy efficiency.

But in a full-page ad in Sunday’s Boston Globe followed by comments in CommonWealth Tuesday CLF shows a side of itself not seen before in using language disparaging a major company and economic force in the region.

It is now using words such as “dishonest and disdainful,” “slinging falsehoods,” and “peddling deception” to attack Eversource, the utility proposing an electric transmission line in New Hampshire to bring clean hydroelectric power and wind from Canada. This is the same company proposing a large offshore renewable wind project off New England’s southern coast with the world’s largest wind energy company.

CLF’s language, and the emotion behind it, sounds like it comes from someone or an organization that’s been rebuffed.  Is it possible that CLF tried to negotiate with Eversource but Eversource focused on negotiating with New Hampshire leaders and communities?  Could it be that CLF’s threat of litigation didn’t work with Eversource?

According to the Eversource website, the company will “allocate $200 million over a 20-year period for projects associated with community betterment, clean energy innovation, economic development, and tourism.  An advisory board of business, municipal, environmental, and labor leaders, among others, will evaluate projects based on established criteria.”  And the company has agreed to put 60 miles underground, not just the original eight, all in response to public concerns about the environment and natural resources.

As it calls for “candor and respect” as it did in the Globe, CLF attacks a national leader in energy efficiency and an aggressive proponent of large-scale intermittent solar and wind energy projects in concert with highly efficient, clean burning natural gas plants. That’s what a major utility today can bring to a cleaner, diverse, secur,e and affordable energy supply system.

As to the substance of the ad and the comments in CommonWealth, Eversource has strong support from the New Hampshire governor on down and is ready to go subject to final approvals.  Contracts are in place with major suppliers of equipment and for construction, as is an important project labor agreement.  Eversource and Hydro Quebec together have the know-how to meet a 2020 in-service date to move clean hydro and wind power from Canada to New England.  In any case, government agencies will decide the outcome.

Going back to the 1990s, CLF deserves credit for helping to move the industry and the region in the direction of clean energy and renewable leadership.  But that credit is eroded by Sunday’s inflammatory ad and the foundation’s comments in CommonWealth.

Eversource and National Grid, New England’s dominant electric and gas utilities, have been responsive to clean energy and energy efficiency policies throughout New England for more than two decades while investing heavily each year in infrastructure to ensure that the region’s transmission and distribution networks are reliable.  They are responsible to multiple stakeholders – customers, regulators, other government officials, employees, shareholders – and their performance is closely monitored and measured.  CLF’s mission does not include responsibility for ensuring reliable, affordable energy.

Ironically, CLF’s aggressiveness may provide a platform for New Hampshire’s governor, other political leaders, business organizations, employers, and civic leaders who support the project to speak out more forcefully.  New Hampshire tends to resent outside interference that seems to tread on its economic and environmental opportunities.

Meet the Author
The issues facing the region following the recent cold spell, and highlighted in a recent report warning of “rolling blackouts” in coming winters, deserve better.

One place to start is to heed Gov. Charlie Baker’s call in his state of the state speech Tuesday night to “commit ourselves to a common decency in our debate and in our dealings with one another and the public.”

Carl Gustin retired from NSTAR, a predecessor of Eversource, in 2000 as a senior vice president.  His responsibilities included development and implementation of the company’s energy efficiency programs in collaboration with CLF, the Attorney General’s office, the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, and the Massachusetts Division of Energy Resources.