New England has isolated itself from the economic and environmental benefits of the country’s shale gas revolution for far too long. From the region’s governors to its electric grid operator, there is overwhelming consensus that it’s time to put an end to the self-imposed natural gas supply squeeze that costs state consumers dearly on their winter energy bills.
While opponents can choose to dismiss studies showing that expanded natural gas pipelines will save consumers money, they cannot defy the laws of supply and demand. Prices in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region in the winter have been a fraction of what they are in New England, and the result is higher energy prices for New England consumers.
New England consumers can expect this trend to continue until more pipeline is built. As Gordon van Welie, chief executive of the region’s electric grid operator — ISO-New England — has stated: “There’s plenty of natural gas. The problem we’ve had in the region is we’ve not matched the need for natural gas with infrastructure.” This concern is echoed by both the former Democratic and current Republican administrations in the state. In fact, an independent report commissioned by the Patrick administration found that “as gas pipeline constraints are reduced, price spikes become less frequent, resulting in lower gas prices.”
By 2020, inadequate infrastructure is going to raise New England consumers’ energy bills by $5.4 billion, according to a new New England Coalition for Affordable Energy study which my trade group — America’s Natural Gas Alliance — helped fund. That translates to $953 for every New England household. The study further found that failing to invest in infrastructure, including natural gas pipelines, will lead to 52,000 lost jobs and a reduction in disposable income of more than $12 billion in the region.
Reliability must also be a priority, given that over the next five years, 3,500 megawatts of power generation capacity will be retired in New England. That’s enough electricity to power more than 2.5 million homes. New Englanders have already committed to natural gas, which accounts for 50 percent of the region’s power generation. It’s time to act responsibly to ensure the state has the fuel needed to run these plants, so Massachusetts residents and businesses can have confidence in their energy supply.
Finally, if New Englanders truly support the use of more renewable energy, they also should champion natural gas. Renewable energy requires natural gas. Far from an either/or choice, natural gas combined-cycle turbines allow renewable energy to be incorporated onto the electric grid, while keeping the lights on when the sun sets or wind dies down. This is why forecasts around President Obama’s Clean Power Plan widely agree that states will embrace a growing role for both natural gas and renewables as they pursue the dual mandates of clean, affordable energy and continued economic growth.
Also, the clean properties of natural gas in their own right cannot be dismissed. The Obama administration recently announced that carbon emissions from the electric power sector this April were the lowest in 27 years. It’s no coincidence this occurred in the same month natural gas surpassed coal for the first time in US history as the leading source of our nation’s electricity.
Rather than “kicking the can down the road” with the state’s infrastructure needs, Massachusetts should be seizing this opportunity. Fortunately, business and political leaders throughout New England are standing up for the importance of expanding natural gas infrastructure. They are right to champion this cause — and to help their communities join the rest of the country in reaping the many benefits of the nation’s shale revolution.
Marty Durbin is chief executive of the trade group America’s Natural Gas Alliance.