November 10, 2011

Martha Coakley: ‘Green’ act costs $4B

By Greg Turner, Boston Herald, 10 November 2011

The Patrick administration’s clean energy agenda will shock Bay State ratepayers with $4 billion in extra costs tacked onto their electric bills over the next four years, the state’s top consumer protection advocate warned yesterday.

“We believe that more effort should be made to expose the true costs of energy, including costs that are often hidden as subsidies,” Attorney General Martha Coakley said at the start of a broad legislative inquiry into the Green Communities Act of 2008.

Coakley credited Gov. Deval Patrick’s sweeping energy policy with boosting long-term efficiency, but sounded an alarm about “escalating costs” from the law’s programs.

She criticized the law’s “sweetheart incentives” for utilities – a reference to the no-bid contract between National Grid and Cape Wind, the controversial offshore wind project supported by Patrick. Coakley stepped in and forced a price cut on the power deal last year.

“We believe that all long-term renewable contracts should be subjected to competitive procurement, and utilities shouldn’t be able to pick winners and losers,” she said. “This will go a long way to ensure transparency and competition to reduce costs.”

The Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, led by Sen. Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield) and Rep. John Keenan (D-Salem), launched the first wholesale review of the Green Communities Act since it was enacted in 2008. The panel could push for changes to the law.

Patrick’s energy and environmental officials touted progress on the law’s goals for solar and wind installations, and job growth at clean energy companies, which they say number nearly 5,000 and employ about 64,000.

“These policies and programs are getting us there, but they’re doing it in a smart way, because we are asking (everyone) only to make decisions in clean energy and energy efficiency only when they make economic sense,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard Sullivan.

Cynthia Arcate, CEO of PowerOptions, a nonprofit energy-buying consortium in Boston, said the Green Communities Act has “turned everything on its head,” complicating the state’s rate structure and undermining regulation.

“This has resulted in constant rate changes to my members and all consumers,” she said. “These changes not only raise their costs but they do it in an unpredictable and volatile way.”

Robert Rio of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts said the law has sapped hard-earned cash from major employers.

“We’re happy to see green companies coming in, but that’s only good if you’re able to take advantage of the programs,” Rio said. “There are people out there that keep paying and paying and paying. … It’s a difficult world out there. Every penny counts.”

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