They say politics makes strange bedfellows. When you see who is lined up against projects that aim to lower the cost of electricity in New England, you can see what they mean.

In Massachusetts, environmentalists are trying to stop a natural gas pipeline project, arguing that the resources would be better used to promote efficiency and renewable resources.

Down in Washington, the environmentalists’ usual enemy, power-generating companies, are fighting on the same side, arguing to federal authorities that the states should not help bring cheaper natural gas into the region because it would “artificially suppress prices.”

But just because they agree (on this one point) doesn’t make them right. The Maine economy has suffered when it competes with states that enjoy low energy costs, and industries that had supplied good jobs to many rural communities have been hurt. Maintaining uncompetitive energy prices — whether the goal is to improve the environment or to improve the corporate bottom line — is a lot to ask from people who need these jobs to get by.

While there is a worldwide glut in natural gas, none of it comes out of the ground in New England, even though the region generates about half of its power in gas-fired plants. Looking ahead, the reliance will grow even greater as older nuclear and oil-fired plants are decommissioned.

During the summer, there is enough gas coming into the region to keep the gas plants running. But in the winter, when home heating gets priority, power generators buy gas on the spot market, and prices can spike.


When that happens, all the generators get more for the power they produce, which makes it worthwhile to fire up an oil-powered plant, like Yarmouth’s Wyman Station. But while the companies make more, customers pay more. Industrial users who pay a variable price for power get hit right away, while residential customers feel the pinch over time.

Environmentalists argue that while gas is cleaner than coal or oil, it is not clean enough. Rather than flood the market with cheaper gas, which would likely bring new gas generators online, they argue that it would be better to move more decisively to “locally made” power like solar and wind, while investing more in efficiency.

We support those efforts. Overreliance on a single energy source, even though that source is in ample supply now, makes us vulnerable. And as technology brings the price of renewables down, they will play a valuable role in the energy mix. Efficiency is not only good for the environment — investing in ways to use less power also costs less than the cheapest power on the market.

But Maine and New England rely on power generated by natural gas, and will for some time to come. It makes sense to do what we can to avoid seasonal shortages that drive up prices.

The new pipeline, as first envisioned, may never materialize even with public help. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will soon rule on the project backed by Maine regulators, Access Northeast, and could knock it down.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission’s approval comes with the condition that Maine won’t participate unless four other states in the region also agree to take part.

But even though high electricity prices might temporarily put environmentalists and polluters on the same side, they are not good for most Mainers. Efforts to increase the gas supply in New England makes sense for Maine.

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