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Baker stresses energy costs as key to competitiveness

Governor Charlie Baker chats with Jim Gallagher of John Hancock before addressing the New England Council breakfast at the Boston Harbor Hotel.
Governor Charlie Baker chats with Jim Gallagher of John Hancock before addressing the New England Council breakfast at the Boston Harbor Hotel.(Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)

Governor Charlie Baker will take a break this weekend from coping with the onslaught of snow to deal with another headache: the region’s high energy costs.

Baker will head to Washington for the winter gathering of the National Governors Association, where he will meet with other New England governors to brainstorm ideas for a regional approach to curbing fuel expenses.

The governor brought up the Washington trip, and his larger concerns about energy, on Thursday during a speech to the New England Council at the Boston Harbor Hotel. Baker sees energy prices as one of the biggest threats to Massachusetts’ economic competitiveness.

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“We can’t go through this issue every winter where the price of electricity goes up 30 or 40 percent,” he told the crowd.

“I believe there’s a huge partnership opportunity, working with the other New England states to get from here to there.”

One of the biggest contributors to the high power prices is the limited transmission capacity connecting the cheap natural gas in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale to the many natural gas-driven power plants in New England.

To address that problem, the governor wants to see the capacity of the existing pipeline system expanded. He said he was glad to see National Grid this week joining an effort led by Eversource Energy (formerly Northeast Utilities/NStar) to invest in expanding Spectra Energy’s pipeline infrastructure in the region.

The utilities want to transfer the costs of the gas pipeline expansion to electricity customers. Presumably, the utilities will look to state regulators and other New England state officials — Baker among them — for help in pulling that off.

The energy issue was just one of several that Baker touched on in his speech, a similar address to the one he gave to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce two weeks ago. Once again, he talked about how he did his best to pick a bipartisan Cabinet and about how he is working on reforms to curb the state’s budget-busting health care costs.

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Not surprisingly, the governor also talked about snow.

He regaled the crowd with a story about the power of the snow-melting machines that the state has either purchased or borrowed.

And he said the National Guard is playing a critical role in getting the Red Line opened back up to Braintree by digging 20 miles of snow by hand.

“Thank the National Guard for being out there every single day, when it’s minus 20, shoveling out the Red Line, from JFK to Braintree [stations],” Baker said.

The problems with the transportation system, just weeks into his term, have been a “learning experience for many of us,” he said.

He was asked about a referendum proposed by critics of a Boston 2024 Olympics — one that could put before the voters the question of whether the state should host the Summer Games.

“[If] folks want to pursue it, there’s a process in place, and by all means have at it,” Baker said. “It’s what it’s there for, and that’s a good thing.”


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow
him on Twitter @jonchesto.