July 23, 2018
Viewpoint

Column: Running out of time and energy

Roy Nascimento

In North Central Massachusetts, local businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. These companies make quality products, provide good jobs, and pay above-average wages. In so many ways, we want to support them, because they support our communities.

Yet even as we celebrate all that our business community contributes to the region, we can see a cloud on the horizon. Energy costs are rising quickly at a time when we are already among the five most expensive states to do business in.

Why does New England pay such high energy costs? In part, it's supply and demand – we have a lot of the latter and too little of the former. Most of our electricity is generated by natural gas-powered facilities, which are cleaner than the oil and coal plants closed in recent years. Those retirements are actually the single most significant reason we've been able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 63 percent since 1990, even as our electricity usage has gone up. But every year we pay an additional $1 billion because we lack access to enough natural gas – particularly when temperatures drop in the winter.

This past winter, we saw the consequence of inaction. The region's independent, nonprofit grid operator, ISO New England, had already reported the looming retirements of older power plants meant the state could soon face rolling blackouts. When temperatures dropped to historic lows the day after Christmas, we turned to burning oil for as much as a third of our electricity, and it almost happened. We were just two to three days away from running out of oil as well.

To say this all has severe economic implications would be a massive understatement. A report published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates, absent upgraded energy infrastructure, New England would lose almost 23,000 jobs and $2 billion in GDP, including a loss of 8,700 jobs and $792 million in state GDP in Massachusetts alone, over a four-year period.

There's something fundamentally wrong about a state as forward-looking and proud of its environmental heritage as Massachusetts still using oil and coal to fill its energy gap. In fact, according to a recent study by the Mass Coalition for Sustainable Energy, we used so much oil in just 13 days during the December/January cold snap – 2 million barrels in all – it was as if we added 6.4 million cars to the road or shut down 75 percent of solar panels in the commonwealth.

That's unacceptable. As we move boldly to a renewable energy future, building the wind, solar and hydropower infrastructure we need to power our economy, we should do everything to utilize the cleanest possible alternatives. We've already seen some companies leave the state due to the high cost of energy. North Central Massachusetts' communities are already doing everything they can to attract and keep businesses. They simply can't stand by as reliability concerns, costs and threats to our environment increase.

The time has come to act. Our families, businesses and communities depend on it.

Roy Nascimento is president and CEO of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce.

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