The staff of the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) says that Maine electricity customers shouldn’t be charged up to $75 million a year to help pay for natural gas pipeline expansion in New England, because the cost would exceed the potential benefits, according to a recent article in the Portland Press Herald.

The staff issued its opinion to help the PUC’s three commissioners decide whether Maine should move ahead with an unprecedented plan to help underwrite natural gas pipeline expansion in New England, the article states.

Supporters of the natural gas expansion plan say additional natural gas pipeline capacity would help relieve bottlenecks in New England’s undersized pipeline system in the winter. Environmental groups, meanwhile, say the region would be better off in the long run by investing in efficiency and diversifying its energy supply with renewables, rather than becoming more dependent on natural gas, which is subject to price swings and contributes to climate change, according to the Press Herald.

The PUC staff said that Maine, by law, cannot enter into the anticipated energy contracts if the free market is going to provide the same cost reduction that ratepayer-subsidized pipelines would. The staff reported that evidence collected in the case supports the finding of a “market failure” contributing to New England’s gas prices but noted that the market participants are already responding by planning new natural gas pipelines.

The Conservation Law Foundation has responded favorably to the PUC staff report. “It will simply cost the state and the parties resources with zero likelihood of a viable (energy contract),” Greg Cunningham, a senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, told the Press Herald. “The staff’s conclusions that Maine is not likely to benefit from a (contract) are dead on accurate. For this reason, the PUC should conclude this case now.”

To read the Portland Press Herald article, click here.