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Moving New England to a clean energy future

We have all shaken our heads in disappointment as we witness chronic inaction in our nation's capital on a variety of important issues, including the seemingly non-partisan issue of encouraging development of more clean energy resources.

Thankfully in Massachusetts, we have been fortunate to have executive and legislative leadership that recognizes the need for energy policy that expands the use of clean energy and energy efficiency while saving ratepayers money. To date, those policies have been highly successful, expanding clean energy use while driving down prices.

Our leadership has an opportunity to again push Massachusetts and New England to the forefront of the nation in encouraging a substantial infusion of clean, affordable energy to the region. We should take up the challenge — and soon.

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Last year, the region's six governors agreed to pursue solutions to bring more inexpensive clean energy to the region. They're now on the cusp of another critical step: to coordinate the procurement of a substantial amount of clean energy — a combination of hydropower from Canada and large-scale wind power from Maine and New York — and to build the infrastructure needed to bring this energy to market. This consensus is remarkable.

Just as important: delivery of more clean energy into the region will also mean staggering savings for ratepayers. The economic benefits to Massachusetts alone will mean between $25 billion to $30 billion will be saved over the next 30 years through the use of long term contracts. These figures are based on a recent ISO-NE 2013 economic study which examines new, large non-fossil generation.

This entire New England clean energy project and the associated cost savings, however, hinges on passage of the Clean Energy Resources Act currently awaiting action in the Massachusetts Legislature before this legislative session ends on July 31. In other words, the time is now to take important and necessary steps toward meeting our region's clean energy goals and doing our part toward stemming climate change, all while saving ratepayers billions of dollars. The current regional consensus won't hold forever, especially with at least two new governors coming into office next year, so it's important to act now.

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Some say the bill is "too much too soon" and suggest waiting and studying — a dangerous game when time is short and real cost savings can be attained right away. If we lose this moment, Massachusetts may wind up footing a much larger bill for clean energy than if it acts in concert with the other states.

Some, recalling past debates over the planned Cape Wind project, are concerned that more renewable power to the region will mean higher costs for businesses and ratepayers. In fact, costs will be coming down. Some in the environmental community are concerned that hydropower from Canada will undermine the state's landmark renewable energy goals and flood open space. In fact, it will help us reach those goals faster, and the proposed hydroelectric projects proposed in Canada's Labrador province promise to limit impacts to river flow.

In reality, the combination of wind and hydro could complement each other perfectly. Hydropower has the greatest value for New England when it's designed to enable utility-scale wind power, rather than undermine it. The efficiency of transmission can be maximized by pairing wind and hydropower.

In addition, the infusion of more clean energy into the New England region would lessen the region's overdependence on natural gas generation, and would help diversify the region's electricity mix.

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We are at a unique crossroads — a time when we must both lead and act, and time is running short. Moving the Clean Energy Resources bill forward will be the kind of dramatic action that is both necessary and brings significant benefits to ratepayers and the region and important progress on our clean energy, economic growth and environmental goals. The time to act is now. We can't afford to wait.

Paul Gaynor is the CEO of First Wind, a renewable energy developer and operator based in Boston. Peter Rothstein is the president of the New England Clean Energy Council.


Paul Gaynor is the CEO of First Wind, a renewable energy developer and operator based in Boston. Peter Rothstein is the president of the New England Clean Energy Council.