HARTFORD, Conn. - Five of the six New England governors met in Hartford, Connecticut, today to talk about regional energy concerns. While the governors are pledging to cooperate on a strategy that will benefit all, they acknowledge that crafting a regional energy plan will present a challenge.
Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, hosted the meeting at which the governors and their staffers agreed to work together to address the higher cost of energy in the region. Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, said it’s an issue that must be addressed.
"If you look at the 12 highest energy states in the country, all New England states are a part of the 12, so we are working in those areas where we have common ground and we can find solutions; we are working together," LePage said. "In those areas where we can’t, we have to go do what is best for the ratepayers and taxpayers in our states."
The specifics of the high costs of energy in New England were laid out by several panelists during the public forum. Gov. LePage asked Gordon van Welie, the president of ISO-New England - the organization that manages the distribution of electricity throughout the region - to assess the urgency of the problem.
"What do you think is the time frame in which states need to act together or take a position?" LePage asked van Welie. "I would say as soon as possible," he replied.
Maine Energy Office Director Patrick Woodcock says that, separately, each of the New England states makes up a relatively small slice of the energy marketplace. But as a region, they can have more of an impact.
"We really need to have one regional energy market," Woodcock says. "We need to have one regional energy plan."
During the public forum both Malloy and LePage stressed that there is no single solution to the cost issue. At one point, as they talked about the need for additional natural gas pipeline capacity, they were briefly interrupted by anti-fracking protesters.
They went on to discuss the possibility of additional energy purchases from Canada, and including energy efficiency efforts as part of a regional strategy.
After a closed meeting, Malloy told reporters that the marketplace has failed the region and that it will take regional policies to address the high cost of energy. "What I think we are trying to do is collectively figure out: How do we rectify that situation where the market may not be driving a solution because it's walking away with an extra seven-and-a-half billion dollars."
He says that is how much extra the region has paid for energy in the last two years, as compared to the national average. And the region itself is economically diverse. Connecticut has the fourth highest per capita income in the country; Maine has the 32nd highest, nearly $20,000 a year less.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, told reporters that, while the states will work together, it will not be easy to craft a plan that meets individual state goals as well as those of the region as a whole.
Each state has its own way of defining cost benefit, OK?" Baker said. "And that factors, in some respects, how you actually figure out what is cost beneficial to everybody, deals with the carbon footprint issue Gov. LePage raised, and can be done collaboratively. There are some legitimate issues around that that can be complicated."
That’s why the governor’s are planning a telephone conference in June to follow up, and want another face-to-face meeting next September. Meanwhile, each governor vows to have their staffers work across state lines and find ways to lower the cost of energy.