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January 14th, 2016:

Who Are Gas Utilities Really Looking Out For?

American Energy Coalition - January 14th, 2016

CommonWealth magazine recently took an in-depth look at the influence of Eversource, National Grid and other utilities in Massachusetts government and found the utilities using their insider status to gain favorable treatment that doesn’t always serve the best interests of ratepayers.

“At every turn, utilities are involved, partly because, as state-regulated monopolies, they are effective agents for executing policy,” the article states. “But the state’s utilities, led by Eversource and National Grid, increasingly are doing more than just following orders. For example, the two utilities are not only orchestrating the purchase of natural gas pipeline capacity and hydroelectricity on behalf of their customers, they want to help build the pipelines that will carry the gas and the transmission lines that will carry the electricity.”

The policies the utilities promote are guided largely by their business interests. “Willie Sutton once said he robbed banks because that’s where the money is. Utilities build pipelines and transmission lines because that’s where the money is,” the article states. “The companies typically receive a much higher rate of return on capital investments in power lines and pipelines than they do on energy efficiency initiatives. The utilities say they are fans of solar power, but they make no money on it” and oppose solar incentives.

Peter Shattuck, the Massachusetts director of the Acadia Center, an environmental advocacy group, told CommonWealth that utilities are driven by financial incentives. “Until the incentives change,” he said, “utilities will continue overbuilding pipelines, poles, and wires, while resisting rooftop solar, smart meters, and other technologies that eat into utilities’ returns.”

Solar advocates say the utilities are misleading the public, according to CommonWealth. They say utilities do have an economic stake in the outcome of the solar incentives debate and are framing the issue far too narrowly.

George Bachrach, the president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, told the magazine that utilities aren’t looking out for their customers.  “I’ve got a bridge to nowhere if you believe that,” he said. “This is a follow-the-money story. Utilities make their money on natural gas and hydro and they do not make their money on solar and wind. These are private companies with private investors who want a return on their investment. These are big businesses. These are not public utilities.”

To read the CommonWealth article, click here.

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