Currently, the Massachusetts Legislature, in conjunction with the Baker/Polito Administration, is in deliberations concerning comprehensive energy legislation that will have financial impacts on businesses and residents alike for years to come. This is significant, in that the Unites States Energy Information Administration has outlined that New England households and businesses have the highest electric prices in the continental United States. Specifically, in the current year, electric costs in Massachusetts have been 60 percent higher for residents than the national average, 53 percent higher for commercial uses, and for high capacity electric users, like manufacturers, 102 percent higher.
Three factors have significantly contributed to these high costs:
• An increased demand for electricity,
• Inadequate infrastructure to meet this demand,
• And the decommissioning of electricity producing power plants fueled by coal and oil, which is compounding the infrastructure deficit.
To fill the gap, natural gas fired electrical generation has grown over the past 15 years, from serving 15 percent of New England’s annual electric needs to almost half. The positive is that natural gas is significantly cleaner than both coal and oil, thus reducing carbon emissions.
However, despite an abundance of domestic natural gas here in the United States, Massachusetts access to this cleaner more affordable fuel is limited because of constrained natural gas pipeline capacity to the region. As a result, especially to meet seasonal winter demand, expanding access to this cleaner fuel is critical in allowing residents, particularly those on fixed incomes, to affordably heat their homes during the winter months. It is also critical for our employer community that provides needed jobs across the state.
In particular, high-energy users, such as manufacturers that are so important to regional economies such as Central Massachusetts, are vulnerable to the ever-increasing energy costs that kill jobs and cause business closings, or result in plant expansions being done elsewhere where energy costs are lower instead of locally. Preserving and growing these jobs must be a priority — they are one of the few remaining sectors of the economy that provide good paying access to the middle class that do not necessarily require a college degree. Manufacturing jobs are a key pillar to the fragile economies of many of our regional Gateway Cities.
As Lieutenant Governor, I was immensely proud to be part of an administration that helped lead the nation in energy policies that embraced clean and renewable energy sources and introduced them to the market place. However, throughout this advocacy, it was understood that we must utilize natural gas as the bridge fuel to our clean energy future knowing that both jobs and our environment were in the balance.
The Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce encourages the legislature and the Baker/Polito administration to sign off on a balanced bill that utilizes renewables such as solar, wind and hydropower. These energy sources combined with natural gas expansion, such as the Algonquin pipeline expansion coming up through Connecticut and Rhode Island and traversing a small section of southeastern Worcester County toward Boston, as well as energy saving incentive tools will help stabilize costs while meeting the needs of our statewide economy and our obligation as stewards of our environment.
This article originally appeared on telegram.com. The author, Timothy P. Murray is the president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the former lieutenant governor of Massachusetts and a former mayor of Worcester.