Although the warmer temps seem to keep coming and going - the weather yesterday and today have me easing the temperature higher and higher on our thermostat. We are eager to test out our new Tier 3 energy efficient home in Northampton, MA - to see whether our utility bills will be as low as promised, in the coming months. To that end, I was both encouraged and upset to read the following editorial today in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Apparently, we can look forward to higher electricity bills this winter. Although this news is not encouraging, the fact that a company called Hampshire Power will be supplying Lowell, MA with power largely from renewable energy sources, is encouraging. This solution that will cost less money to the citizens of Lowell, and have a more positive environmental impact. Apparently, Hampshire Power has signed up 11 communities in Berkshire County and one in Worcester County with a similarly beneficial program. Here's hoping that the local communities of Hampshire County /Pioneer Valley follow suit!
Editorial: Electricity costs pinch New England, but relief may be on horizon
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
A recent drop in gasoline prices helps only a little to buffer news that electricity costs will rise sharply this winter, making it more expensive to keep lights on in the darkest season and delivering a blow to households that heat with electricity.
Given enough time, New England will be able to bring down electricity costs as new plants come online, experts in the field point out. But the picture in the months ahead is grim. Massachusetts and neighboring states must adjust to significant shifts in the energy markets.
Utilities that provide electricity in western Massachusetts warned last week that competition for a limited supply of natural gas is largely to blame for prices that will jump a third this winter compared to last year.
Natural gas is used to produce half of the electricity generated in New England. The growing need for that fuel source is what led six New England governors to embrace the idea of bringing in more natural gas -- an appetite two major projects are eager to satisfy.
Even with a clear need for alternatives to coal-fired and nuclear plants, Gov. Deval Patrick hit the brakes in July by calling for a more detailed study of the state's energy needs.
Kinder Morgan wants to build a 177-mile natural gas pipeline across the northern part of the state -- and running through a small part of Hampshire County and nine Franklin County towns. The project, which must pass muster with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, faces determined local opposition.
More recently, Northeast Utilities, which owns the Western Massachusetts Electric Co., announced that it and a partner, Spectra Energy, propose to bring more natural gas into New England by expanding the capacity of existing pipelines.
While they would increase needed supplies of natural, these projects have yet to prove their worth and safety. Critics rightly question whether the gas will ease New England's energy pinch or be routed to the export markets, doing little to benefit a state that endured a pipeline construction or expansion.
As for this winter's sticker shock, National Grid says it will pass along a 37 percent cost increase compared to last winter. WMECO has not yet said how much rates will rise, but a spokeswoman noted, "We are all facing the same challenges." For the average National Grid customer, electric bills will rise about $33 a month. Those who heat with electricity will pay a lot more.
While electricity customers may feel they are at the mercy of price jumps, they do not need to be utility captives. Just this week, Hampshire Power, a project run by the Hampshire Council of Governments, announced it won a competitive bid to supply power to the city of Lowell in a deal that significantly expands its operations and will lower prices for ratepayers in the state's fourth-largest city. Instead of seeing prices rise a third, customers in Lowell will pay that much less.
And the rates will be locked in for three years. As an added benefit, the electricity Hampshire Power will supply 31,000 residential and 4,200 business customers in Lowell will come from renewable sources in New England. That is both a lean and clean deal for Lowell.
Hampshire Power has been pushing its option for years and has signed up 11 communities in Berkshire County and one in Worcester County. It hopes soon to secure state Department of Public Utilities permission to roll out a program that would enable it to buy power at lower rates on behalf of 160,000 residents and businesses in 35 cities and towns. Those customers want the power. Their municipal leaders have signed the papers. The state should stop fiddling around and allow them access to it.
In the short term, electricity customers can find themselves at the mercy of the market. In the long term, they have options worth pursuing.