The Jan. 23 Globe ran a summary of Governor Baker’s energy plans that omitted some essential facts about new gas pipelines.
Baker wants us to pay billions of dollars for massive new gas pipelines across Massachusetts. These will supply more gas on the coldest and hottest days when demand is highest, supplies run short, and the price of gas spikes.
But last year, during an exceptionally severe winter, the price of gas didn’t spike. Why? Because we stockpiled liquified natural gas, using offshore terminals built a decade ago and scarcely used since. It makes more sense to use existing, under-utilitized infrastructure than build costly, redundant new pipelines.
Our utility companies, which plan to profit from the proposed pipelines, could also hold down demand by agreeing with their customers to cut energy use during peak periods. Massachusetts is far behind other states in managing peak demand. As a consequence, 40 percent of our generating capacity lies idle 90 percent of the time. It’s just there for those very cold or hot days. We customers are paying for those idle plants, and it’s another reason our electric rates are as high as they are.
The utilities could take other steps to cut demand. The gas utilities could repair their leaky distribution pipes instead of wasting enough gas to heat 200,000 homes in greater Boston alone. They could put more money into weatherization programs instead of trying to cut them back. And most important, they could support more solar and wind power instead of trying to limit new solar projects. Our electrical generation is more dependent on gas than almost any other state’s. The price spikes are telling us that we are too dependent, and if we want cheap reliable energy, we should diversify our energy sources and cut our usage. After all, the cheapest electricity is the electricity you don’t use.