Electric industry zaps proposed rules


Oct. 18, 2000(Boston Herald)—Electricity producers opposed to potential state regulations that would prod the companies to use more natural gas warned yesterday that depending on the fuel could drive up energy costs in the region.

Energy bills could double in five years, according to data in an extensive report prepared for the electric companies by a Virginia research firm.

“Policy-makers need to take steps to avert another situation akin to the 1970s, when our dependence on oil had dire consequences,” said Neal Costello, the general counsel for the Competitive Power Coalition of New England.

“We apparently haven’t learned our lesson,” he added.

The coalition is fighting regulations under consideration by the state Department of Environmental Protection that would make it tougher for power generators to burn oil and coal.

Their report asserts that New England gets about 50 percent of its power from natural gas today. In 1980, the region got only 45 percent of its power from oil.

That dependance could surge to 65 percent in just a few years, the authors wrote.

While many power producers oppose new regulations, the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group is fighting to have them enacted.

Derek Hiskew, a MassPIRG expert on energy issues, accused the power coalition of trying to paint an inaccurately gloomy scenario.

“They want to scare everybody into thinking our energy system will collapse so consumers will go running into the arms of the oil and coal lobbies,” Hiskew said.

Groups, including MassPIRG, support the use of alternative power sources, such as wind farms and solar panels. Those sources would be more favorably priced compared to oil if the government didn’t subsidize the use of fossil fuels, the activists contend.

Critics, however, maintain that alternative sources haven’t been sufficiently developed to meet the country’s energy needs.

A DEP spokesman said the final guidelines will likely come out later this year. A public comment period on draft regulations closed in early August.

If opposed, power companies could go to court.

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