BOSTON GLOBE: Baker stresses energy costs as key to competitiveness
As originally appearing in THE BOSTON GLOBE

By JON CHESTO

GLOBE STAFF  

 

Governor Charlie Baker is going to take a break from dealing with the onslaught of snow this weekend to deal with another headache — the region’s high energy costs.

Baker is planning to head to Washington for the annual meeting of the National Governors Association, where he’ll meet with other New England governors to come up with a regional approach to this issue.

Baker brought up the Washington trip, and his larger concerns about energy, on Thursday during a speech before the New England Council at the Boston Harbor Hotel. Baker sees energy prices as one of the biggest threats to this state’s economic competitiveness.

“We can’t go through this issue every winter where the price of electricity goes up 30 or 40 percent,” Baker told the crowd. “I believe there’s a huge partnership opportunity working with the other New England states to get from here to there.”

One of the biggest contributors to the high power prices is the limited transmission capacity connecting the cheap natural gas in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale to the many natural gas-fired power plants in New England.

To address that problem, Baker wants to see the existing pipeline system’s capacity expanded. At Thursday’s event, he said he was glad to see National Grid this week joining an effort led by Eversource Energy (formerly Northeast Utilities/NStar) to invest in expanding Spectra Energy’s existing pipeline infrastructure in the region. National Grid and Eversource will be equity participants in the expansion project, as well as its biggest customers, as New England’s biggest energy utilities. The utilities want to change how the regional electricity market is typically handled by passing the costs of the gas pipeline expansion on to electricity customers. Presumably, the utilities will look to officials in New England states such as Baker for help in pulling that off.

The energy issue was just one of several themes that Baker touched on in Thursday’s speech, which mirrored what he discussed at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast two weeks ago. Again, he talked about how he did his best to pick a bipartisan cabinet, and how he will work on reforms to curb the state’s budget-busting MassHealth costs.

Not surprisingly, he talked more about the snow this time around. He regaled the crowd with a story about the power of the snow-melting machines that the state has either purchased or borrowed. And he said the National Guard is playing a critical role in getting the Red Line opened back up to Braintree by digging 20 miles of snow by hand. “Thank the National Guard for being out there every single day, when it’s minus 20, shoveling out the Red Line, from JFK to Braintree [stations],” Baker said. “It’s stuff like that that’s going to get … the rail service back up in five or six days instead of the 30 days that people were talking about originally.”

The transportation system, he said, has been a “learning experience for many of us.”

He was later asked about a referendum proposed by critics of a Boston 2024 Olympics, one that could put before the voters the question about whether the state should host the Summer Games. “[If] folks want to pursue it, there’s a process in place, and by all means have at it,” Baker said. “It’s what it’s there for and that’s a good thing.”

 

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.

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