New England governors meet to update region's long-term strategy for energy seen as too costly

Energy Associated Press

New England's governors met Thursday to update their long-term energy strategy that increasingly relies on natural gas and efforts to build more pipelines.

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The region has limited natural gas pipeline systems, which are reaching maximum capacity, said Gordon van Welie, president and chief executive of the region's power grid, ISO-New England.

System reliability is helped by a reliance on older oil and coal plants that are set to retire in a few years, he said.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, referring to the region's "special energy challenges," said individuals and business are "paying too high a price" for power because of the pipeline bottlenecks and other snags.

"The problem is greater than any one state can solve alone," he said.

Malloy was joined by Maine Gov. Paul LePage. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin were to participate later. New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan was not expected to participate.

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Underlining their challenges to broaden natural gas pipeline network, the governors and state environmental officials were confronted by a group of protesters who denounced hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, used to drill for natural gas.

David Ludlow of Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood accused the governors of indifference to climate change that advocates say is due to carbon-based energy such as natural gas.

"We have no idea how dangerous these pipelines are," he said as security guards ushered him and other protesters out of the meeting hall.

The Laborers International Union, which represents 70,000 New England and New York construction workers, maintained a presence outside Hartford's Connecticut Convention Center to voice support for pipeline construction.

Energy officials from the six states have been developing a proposal to apply federal tariffs on electric ratepayers to finance energy projects. But last summer, then- Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts sought a delay as his administration analyzed different energy plans, including those that would not require construction of extensive natural gas pipelines.

Elin Swanson Katz, Connecticut's consumer counsel, described what she called a "very human cost" to high energy prices in New England. Connecticut customers of Eversource Energy are increasingly using a payment plan to help with escalating electricity costs, she said.

"We've heard from proud people who never missed a payment in their life and have done a great job with their finances who nevertheless have to ask for help with their energy bills," Katz said.

Senior citizens turn their electricity down to 50 degrees or "turn it off completely" in winter and delay medication purchases to pay their electricity bills, she said.

"We even heard from one woman who's got one light bulb in her house at night and she walks around with a flashlight," Katz said.

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