The state’s two largest utilities are taking opposite sides in the hard-fought governor’s race, mirroring key differences between the two companies on a wide range of energy issues.
National Grid’s top executives have dished out at least $8,250 in campaign donations to Gov. Deval Patrick since the start of 2009, while giving only $1,640 to his GOP rival Charlie Baker, campaign finance records show.
Nstar’s top executives have thrown their support behind Baker, donating $17,650 to the Republican while giving only $2,500 to Democratic incumbent Patrick.
Industry and political observers say there may be more at stake than plain old-fashioned partisan preferences for candidates.
National Grid – whose executives held a controversial fund-raiser for Patrick after winning a key electric rate case last year – has signed a multibillion-dollar power-purchase contract with Cape Wind, a project supported by the Patrick administration.
National Grid is also now asking for a more than $100 million rate increase for its natural-gas subsidiary, formerly known as Keyspan.
Nstar, which has been reluctant to hook up with Cape Wind, is involved in a major $1.1 billion hydroelectricity transmission project stretching from Quebec to New Hampshire. Baker has criticized Cape Wind’s costs and touted hydroelectric power as a future major source of renewable energy.
Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause of Massachusetts, said the divide between National Grid and Nstar executives’ donations shows they have different energy interests moving forward. She said she thought the controversial Cape Wind project may be the ultimate fault line between the two utilities.
Bob Rio, senior vice president of Associated Industries of Massachusetts, said there are many contentious energy issues confronting utility companies, from how to boost renewable fuels to improving the electric grid.
A Patrick spokesman said that “while the governor appreciates the support of tens of thousands of grassroots donors in every corner of the commonwealth, policy decisions are made on the merits, period.”
A Baker spokesman accused the Patrick administration of supporting a “sweetheart deal between Cape Wind and National Grid” that will push up already high electricity costs.
Rick Gorka, Baker’s spokesman, also said that Patrick’s green-energy policies are “soaking ratepayers” with higher utility rates.
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