Charlie Baker appoints controversial new energy team
Environmental advocates fear shift from Patrick’s policies
An unsuccessful Republican candidate for Congress who campaigned against government regulations, a former lobbyist for the region’s fossil fuel industry, and a senior executive at one of the state’s largest power companies will oversee energy policy for Governor Charlie Baker, administration officials said Monday.
The appointments stirred concerns among environmental advocates that the administration could move in a different direction from the Patrick administration, which promoted renewable energy and sought to reduce the state’s reliance on fossil fuels that contribute to climate change.
Others said they hope the appointments signaled lower energy prices in the coming years.
The administration announced that Robert Hayden will serve as commissioner of the Department of Public Utilities, which is responsible for ensuring the state’s electricity and gas utilities provide safe, reliable, and affordable energy while also encouraging energy efficiency and cleaner energy. Hayden ran in a losing bid for Congress in 2010.
Angela O’Connor, who founded the New England Power Generators Association and served as its president for six years, will serve as chairwoman of the Department of Public Utilities, a position in which she will oversee the agency’s budget and personnel.
Ron Gerwatowski, a former senior vice president for regulation and pricing at National Grid, will serve as assistant secretary for energy under Matthew Beaton, a former Republican state representative who is serving as secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
“Bob and Angela will call upon their previous experiences and vast industry knowledge to ensure that utility consumers in the commonwealth are provided with the most reliable and dependable service at the lowest possible cost,” Beaton said in a statement. “Ron’s experience and steadfast commitment to a clean energy future and cost-effective energy for Massachusetts will be a tremendous asset.”
An Energy and Environmental Affairs spokeswoman said none of the new appointees were available to answer questions Monday.
Environmental advocates said they worried the new team would emphasize lower costs and the industry’s interests ahead of cutting the state’s reliance on coal and natural gas.
“The administration is clearly putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop on energy policy,” said George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts. “These are disappointing appointments that will likely represent the interests of the utilities and industries they regulate.”
Hayden has spent most of his career working for the government. He served as a prosecutor with the Plymouth district attorney’s office before joining the Department of Public Utilities in 2001, where he served as a hearing officer in the legal division and focused on enforcement in the pipeline safety division.
Five years ago, Hayden lost in the 10th Congressional district Republican primary on a platform to “end the slide toward a European-style entitlement society” and get “overreaching government . . . out of the way,” according to his campaign’s website.
O’Connor, a former selectwoman in Rockport, served as a vice president of energy policy at Associated Industries of Massachusetts, which has lobbied to lower energy costs for the state’s businesses and has long opposed the effort by Cape Wind to install more than 100 turbines in Nantucket Sound.
After overseeing the New England Power Generators Association, which represents the state’s coal and natural gas industry among other power companies, O’Connor served until last year as executive director for New England operations of TechNet, a national trade association for the technology industry.
“She understands the issues, but in the past, she has favored traditional fossil fuel generation and overbuilding for pipeline or transmission capacity as opposed to looking at energy efficiency or other solutions,” said Sean Mahoney, executive vice president of Conservation Law Foundation.
Baker’s choice of Gerwatowski, however, earned praise from many advocates and former Patrick officials. He spent 28 years working for National Grid, where he had executive responsibility for rates and related energy policy matters.
In its news release, the administration said Gerwatowski has been directly involved with the development and implementation of clean energy policy initiatives in New England, including the state’s Green Communities Act.
“Massachusetts and New England are at an energy crossroads, and Mr. Gerwatowski knows what it will take to develop large supplies of renewable energy to avoid overdependence on natural gas,” said Ken Kimmell, who served as commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection under Patrick and is now president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
In his campaign for governor, Baker vowed to comply with the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act, a Patrick administration initiative that requires the state to cut carbon emissions by 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below by 2050.
But electricity rates last year jumped by 37 percent for many homeowners, and the goals of reducing those costs in the short-term could collide with longer-term efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.
In an interview with the Globe after being appointed by Baker last year, Beaton said he wants to cut rates and promote renewable energy, but he said he worries that it is increasingly difficult for businesses in Massachusetts to be competitive because of utility costs.
“There’s a fine balance,” he said. “But we need to keep Massachusetts competitive.”