PITTSFIELD – A federal overhaul of energy regulations won’t change things too much for consumers in the Berkshires as the state continues marching toward a clean energy future.
But President Donald Trump’s executive order on Tuesday loosening restrictions on coal plants and prompting a review of the former administration’s Clean Power Plan may affect how Massachusetts competes economically with the rest of the country.
“Other states without state emissions mandates now have no federal mandates,” said Dan Dolan, the president of the New England Power Generators Association. “They’re not pushing to decarbonize, so their costs could be lower in relation to ours.”
Tuesday’s executive order initiates a review of the August 2015 Clean Power Plan, which restricts emissions from coal-fired power plants. The review is likely to roll back most, if not all, of the restrictions in the plan. A moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands was halted 14 months into its three year term, also as part of the executive order. Trump and his allies argue that easing environmental regulations is an important step forward in stimulating the economy.
The federal government is going in the opposite direction than Massachusetts on energy. On Aug. 8, 2016, Gov. Charlie Baker signed legislation to diversify the state’s energy portfolio, declaring that the “Act Relative to Energy Diversity” would move the state toward a clean energy future.
“[T]he Commonwealth has taken another major step toward providing residents and businesses with a cost-effective and reliable clean energy future,” Baker said at the time.
Former state Sen. Ben Downing, D-Pittsfield, who was the chairman of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy last year, said that the state was “taking yet another important step toward a clean energy economy.”
Those targets are admirable, Dolan said, but they come with costs. Dolan said that the states that could see benefits from the loosening of regulations are Massachusetts’ competitors. Cheaper energy could give the mid-Atlantic, Midwest and Southeastern regions of the country an advantage in drawing businesses to those areas.
“We do expect the impact,” Dolan said, “to be related to the cost of our electricity versus those other regions.”
The cost of energy in Massachusetts remains tightly regulated by the state. The Department of Public Utilities controls the electrical rates consumers pay in the state for both distribution and generation of energy.
“We’re on the distribution side, and it’s a highly regulated industry,” said Priscilla Ress, Eversource media relations specialist for the Western Massachusetts region.
As distributors, Ress told The Eagle, Eversource wouldn’t see a benefit or detriment from the order, because their profits are made on the distribution rate. Customers pay the same generation rate that the company does, Ress said.
National Grid’s Mary-Leah Assad said on Wednesday that despite the change in Washington, Massachusetts emissions regulations are still front and center for the company. National Grid will continue to work to meet state standards, she said.
“We support and remain committed to Massachusetts’ clean energy targets,” Assad said.
Berkshire Gas supports Massachusetts’ clean energy legislation, said Christopher C. Farrell, the company’s manager of communications and government relations. He said the company was disappointed in Trump’s executive order signed Tuesday.
“We are supportive of the Baker administration’s plan,” Farrell said. “We need a full range of energy options in the commonwealth.”
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