Charlie Baker didn’t run for governor on a platform of consumer protection or climate action. But now that he thinks climate change is real and man-made, he talks a lot about his administration’s work on clean energy and climate change, even as his messaging to his base, and his reelection campaign, evoke themes of “hold the line on taxes” and small government.
There’s nothing wrong with the Governor’s beliefs on climate change evolving and he’s not unique in disliking taxation (as much as we desperately need more revenue). And yes, it’s also really important to have bipartisan action on climate change. As I see it, the problem is pretty simple: beneath a rhetoric of climate action and balanced “combo platter” of energy solutions, the Governor has approved policies that are bad for ratepayers, bad for the environment and bad for democracy.
A number of the Governor’s appointees are so bad they might as well be lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry, and overall, the Governor’s energy strategy is bad for consumers, prioritizes investor-owned utilities whose executives contribute to his campaign, and is dishonest, hiding “little known taxes” on energy bills and fees.
What has Charlie Baker’s administration done that is so awful? His administration has approved automatic rate increases, a gratuitously high return on equity for Eversource energy (more on this below), unprecedented fees on solar, cuts to compensation for renters and low-income renewable energy customers, a tax on electric bills to fund fracked gas pipeline expansion (struck down by the MA SJC) and the Governor has failed to maintain the few campaign pledges related to the environment around funding of environmental programs and meaningfully addressing gas leaks.
On rate decisions, you can get a detailed description on what Eversource proposed here.
For the basic money figures, here you go. Eversource got a hike of upwards of $30 million from its customers, even as it complained that this paled in comparison to its request, which was about three times higher. Environmental justice groups and municipal officials vigorously opposed the request at every stage, but DPU ignored their protests.
(What do utilities do with this money? Sure, some of it goes to fund poles and wires, pay staff and invest in new energy infrastructure. Eversource, National Grid and Unitil don’t generate power; they make money from the return on building new infrastructure like distribution lines, and its investors lose out economically when your local energy solutions like solar obviate the need for more poles, wires, substations and other facilities. Increasing return on equity means Massachusetts ratepayers spend more money to enrich utility investors – the utility claims, essentially, that exorbitant returns are a necessary expense.
Even before the hike, Eversource regularly used consumer funds to pay membership fees out to trade groups like Associated Industries of Massachusetts and Edison Electric Institute. These groups subsequently lobby against clean energy policy – even at times, in the case of AIM, supporting policies that make it hard for large customers to go renewable.)
The type of hard-to-understand fees on residential solar approved by Baker’s DPU are FIRST IN THE NATION. This isn’t the kind of policy Massachusetts wants to lead on, setting a precedent that will surely be picked up on in other states. Advocacy group Vote Solar is appealing the decision to the MA Supreme Judicial Court.
Oh, and what’s that about the “pipeline tax”? Governor Baker’s Department of Public Utilities ruled that it was okay to put a fee on electric customer’s bills to expand multi-billion dollar fracked gas infrastructure across New England. The MA Supreme Judicial Court struck that idea down as it violates a 1990’s law that restructured the electricity market, in part to encourage competition, advance efficiency and shield consumers from risk that should be borne by investors.
In summary, the out-of-control Department of Public Utilities has consistently acted to (1) hike rates (2) guarantee utility investor profits (3) attack clean energy and (4) attempt to prop up fossil fuels – sometimes violating the law to do so and getting reprimanded through the court process.
Outside of DPU, and amidst anti-pipeline protests, Governor Baker has said doesn’t “take a backseat to anybody” on renewable energy. He may honestly believe that, but for the purposes of explication allow me to list a few United States Governors and numerous Massachusetts Republicans who are well ahead of Governor Baker on clean energy and climate change.
Governor David Ige – Hawaii – Supports a transition to 100% Renewable Energy, which Hawaii has in statute. (Baker was recently featured in a discussion alongside Gov. Ige)
Governor Jerry Brown – Aggressively resisting Trump agenda, pushing regional climate cooperation on the west coast. CA has a 50% renewable energy by 2030 mandate in law.
There are plenty of others.
(Massachusetts’ renewable energy commitment will get us to 100% renewables by 2105, even though moving faster on renewables would cost little and create thousands of jobs)
Massachusetts Republicans to whom Charlie Baker takes a backseat:
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr – A longtime supporter of climate action, energy planning, repair of gas leaks
House Minority Leader Brad Jones – A longtime advocate for environmental conversation, he’s worked with Democrats on many issues. Recently, he co-authored a letter signed by 120+ legislators urging reforms to the Department of Public Utilities and higher standards on Gas Infrastructure.
Senator Ryan Fattman of Sutton – A big fan of the outdoors, rumor has it he’s a member of the Appalachian Mountain Club!
Mayor Bob Hedlund and Senator Patrick O’Connor of Weymouth – Strong opponents of a gas compressor station in Weymouth.