January 19, 2012

Coakley calls for end to “sweetheart deal” with utilities

By Kyle Cheney / State House News Service, bostonherald.com 18 January 2012

Attorney General Martha Coakley called Wednesday for competitive bidding for energy contracts and an end to “sweetheart deals currently offered to utility companies,” which she said were inflating consumers’ energy bills.

“Put another way, I believe the commonwealth can continue to go green, but we can still leave some green in your pockets,” she said to business officials at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast at downtown Boston’s Intercontinental Hotel.

Coakley said she hoped to take a fresh look at the state’s Green Communities Act, a 2008 law that requires utility companies to purchase a small percentage of their power from renewable sources. The act includes a provision governing direct negotiations between utility companies and power suppliers, essentially sanctioning no-bid deals. She also reiterated concerns that the law would cost Massachusetts consumers $4 billion over the next four years.

Coakley’s remarks drew an immediate rebuke from Ian Bowles, the former state secretary of energy and environmental affairs, who called Coakley’s assessment of the Green Communities Act “shameless grandstanding” intended to mislead about the actual impact of the law, which he said had saved consumers $9 billion. Bowles, who initially took to Twitter to level his critique, also said the assessment of the costs is “remarkably misleading.”

“It’s shamelessly misleading to talk about costs without talking about benefits,” he said. “Our electricity costs are down by 40 percent. The cost of electricity is down by 40 percent since the act was passed. It’s the biggest energy efficiency program in the country. None of this is in dispute.”

Bowles, who now runs a clean energy firm called Rhumb Line Energy, also argued that the section of the law that allowed for no-bid utility deals was a “small part” of the 100-section Green Communities Act, which he helped implement as the Patrick administration’s energy chief. Only one contract was ever negotiated under that section, he said – a pact between Cape Wind and National Grid for the purchase of half of the project’s power.

Coakley said she still supports the Green Communities Act but thinks it may be time for an update.

“When you look at the Green Communities Act that was passed before the economic downturn, there was some focus on allowing for no-bid contracts around some alternative energies,” she said. “I supported the Green Communities Act, and I still do. I think we need to be a leader in clean energy. But given the economy and given some of the way we’ve seen the market go …we think it’s a good time to look at the statute and what some of the incentives are in the statute and ask the question ’do we need to recalibrate those so that there’s more competitive bidding?’”

Asked whether invoking “sweetheart deals” was intended as a reference to Cape Wind, whose detractors have repeatedly criticized the National Grid contract’s costs, Coakley described the deal as “expensive” but said she isn’t asking that it be reopened.

“I’m suggesting that going forward we should see if the statute needs to be changed,” she said.

Gov. Deval Patrick has repeatedly touted his administration’s efforts to promote clean, renewable energy, an industry he says will create jobs and reduce Massachusetts’s dependence on fossil fuels. But critics say alternative energy requirements like those included in the Green Communities Act would send energy bills soaring for Massachusetts residents and businesses at a time when they can least afford it.

The issue of energy costs appears to be gaining momentum in the Senate, where Senate President Therese Murray indicated members would consider legislation this year.

URL to article:  https://www.wind-watch.org/news/2012/01/19/coakley-calls-for-end-to-sweetheart-deal-with-utilities/