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Thursday
Mar022017

New England governors highlight energy issues in their 2017 opening addresses

In their 2017 opening addresses, the New England governors focused on topics as diverse as pension reform and the opiate crisis, the economy, and, in some cases, energy. The following is an overview of the major economic and energy themes arising in the early days of 2017.

New Hampshire

Republican Governor Christopher Sununu devoted a significant portion of his January 5 Inaugural address to energy costs, arguing that the state needs a long-term plan to address energy issues.

“We have to strengthen our economy by bringing sensible, long-term planning to our energy policy,” Governor Sununu said.  “For too long, with all our best intentions, I believe we’ve disregarded our responsibility on lowering energy costs,” he said. Lowering those costs, Governor Sununu said, will help efforts to keep manufacturers in the state.

New Hampshire also needs to consider new energy infrastructure, Governor Sununu said, while still ensuring its overall best interests are addressed. He reaffirmed support for expanded natural gas capacity and the proposed 1100 MW Northern Pass transmission line.

Governor Sununu, a former environmental engineer who previously served on New Hampshire’s Executive Council and was chief executive officer of Waterville Valley ski resort, said the state has an opportunity to be a “shining example” of how to develop renewable energy. He urged lawmakers to reexamine the state’s renewable energy policies. “We need to be looking at the economic and the environmental impacts,” he said, “and not just signing off on everything that comes to our desk.”

Maine

In his State of the State address on February 7, Republican Governor Paul LePage called on lawmakers to address the cost of energy, which is so high that some elderly residents are losing their homes in part because they cannot pay their utility bills, he said. The state is going “backwards,” Governor LePage said. “Our energy costs have gone from the 12th highest in the nation to the 11th highest.”

Prior to becoming governor, LePage served as Mayor of Waterville for eight years.  In his address, Governor LePage encouraged legislators to pursue a more “sensible” energy policy that will lower energy costs, reduce emissions in “the most cost-effective manner,” and lessen reliance on oil.

Governor LePage also weighed in on the debate about how to equitably fund electric infrastructure as some consumers shift their electricity use by adding behind-the-meter solar PV. He criticized a recent Maine Public Utilities Commission order on net metering, which, he says, allows owners of rooftop solar arrays to avoid paying what he says is their share of the transmission and distribution costs. Governor LePage said that the order shifts additional costs onto ratepayers, including low-income and elderly customers who cannot afford to pay more than they do now.

Rhode Island

In her State of the State address on January 17, Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo emphasized a variety of improvements that Rhode Island has made in the last year to grow stronger on several fronts, notably infrastructure, schools, the state’s commitment to veterans and the environment, and the economy.

Last June, Raimondo announced that General Electric will open a digital information technology center in Providence and intends to employ 100 people in the near term, with the possibility of a few hundred people over the next several years. In her address, she said such successes provide evidence that “world class companies” are expanding in the Ocean State.

A former state Treasurer who previously worked in venture capital before becoming the state’s first female Governor, Raimondo also touted the state’s commitment to renewable energy and the environment.

“Last year, we made it easier for Rhode Island homeowners and businesses to be a part of our march toward a renewable future,” she said, referencing two energy laws that passed in 2016. One law extends the state’s Renewable Energy Standard beyond 2019. The second allows for virtual net metering, third-party financing for net-metering systems, and extends a renewable energy charge on retail customer bills from 2017 to 2027.

In her address, the governor announced a goal to double the number of Rhode Islanders working in the green economy by 2020. (Clean energy employment increased 40% over 2015 levels and now accounts for nearly 14,000 jobs across Rhode Island, according to the 2016 Rhode Island Clean Energy Jobs Report issued in April 2016 by the state’s Office of Energy Resources and the Executive Office of Commerce.)

Massachusetts

In his January State of the Commonwealth address, Republican Governor Charlie Baker highlighted the Bay State’s growing economic strength.

Baker said the state’s economy is among the strongest in the nation and noted that Bloomberg had named Massachusetts the #1 state for innovation for the second year in a row.

Baker, who previously served as a state health and human services commissioner and chief executive officer for a health insurance provider, said the commonwealth’s achievements are a result of bipartisan cooperation and problem solving that extends to energy policy developments.

“It’s not an accident that Massachusetts is such an attractive place to do business. It’s a reflection of the quality of our people and the business climate we’ve created,” he said. “The progress we made on energy is a perfect example. Together, we passed landmark legislation that will reduce our carbon footprint while maintaining a competitively priced and reliable supply of energy. And we’ve built on those efforts by issuing an Executive Order on Climate Change that directs state government to work with local governments, business, and non-profits to develop plans to further protect our environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Last year, Governor Baker signed into law a bill requiring the state’s electric distribution companies to solicit proposals for offshore wind and other clean energy resources. 

Vermont

First-term Vermont Governor Phil Scott, a Republican, emphasized in his Inaugural address the need to promote a healthier business climate as the state copes with a declining population of young people.

“Fostering job creation and recruiting entrepreneurs will create a more resilient economy,” Governor Scott said. 

A building contractor and race car driver who previously served as a state senator and the state’s lieutenant governor, Governor Scott signed an executive order on his first day in office directing every state agency and department to focus on three strategic priorities: strengthening the economy; making Vermont more affordable; and protecting the most vulnerable.

The governor did not discuss energy in his opening address. He has, however, weighed in on the state’s ongoing debate about siting renewable energy, saying that he opposes placing large wind turbines on mountain ridgetops and would support a moratorium on such projects.

On January 9, Governor Scott affirmed Vermont’s goal to generate 90 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2050 and said green energy jobs play an important part of the state’s economic future. (The state senate is now considering a bill that would put the 90%-by-2050 goal in statute).

Connecticut

Facing a projected $1.5 billion deficit in the Connecticut state budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Governor Dannel Malloy used most of his January 4 State of the State address to explain his priorities this year: leaner state government, pension and employee cost savings, and new ways to distribute aid (mostly related to education) to cities and towns.

A former prosecutor and mayor of Stamford, Malloy praised the legislature for convening a special session last fall to pass legislation to help retain 8,000 jobs at the Sikorsky Aircraft manufacturing plant. Those efforts complement previous similar efforts with United Technologies Corporation and Electric Boat, Malloy said.

“Together we’ve protected Connecticut’s aerospace and defense industries for a generation and likely beyond,” said Malloy, who is a Democrat.  “More importantly, we’ve given these employers, and the tens of thousands of employees who work for them, something that is vital in today’s world: We’ve given them predictability.”

Although Governor Malloy did not discuss energy in his speech, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) is expected to release its draft Comprehensive Energy Strategy in March. Under state law, CT DEEP is required to prepare an assessment and plan for all energy needs, including electricity, heating, cooling, and transportation, every three years.

Address to Congress

During a formal address to Congress on February 28, President Donald Trump did not delve deeply into his priorities for the US energy sector. After spending his first several weeks in office articulating his concern about the scope of federal regulations, the President noted efforts he has already undertaken to reduce regulatory burdens, including mandating that agencies eliminate two existing regulations for every new regulation it imposes. Although not specifically mentioned in his speech, it is expected that the White House will continue to focus attention on recent regulations written by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The President also highlighted the need for a substantial investment in infrastructure in the United States. He noted that he is working to ensure that the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines are built, two multi-state energy infrastructure projects that have received a significant amount of attention from federal lawmakers.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry’s nomination to be the Secretary of the US Department of Energy is still pending in the US Senate, and it is likely that a more defined energy policy will emerge once Governor Perry is confirmed. The White House also must nominate three commissioners to fill vacancies at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

ISO New England’s External Affairs team closely tracks energy policy initiatives and will continue to post updates on ISO Newswire.