by Stephen Barrett, LEED AP
I recently had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion organized by the Environmental Business Council of New England (EBC) with Matthew Beaton, the new Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs under Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. While the Baker Administration took the reins in early January and Secretary Beaton has been on-board since day one, this panel was one of his first public appearances as he has been busy building his team and getting them up to speed. Some in the clean energy and environmental industries had been concerned that the Baker Administration would roll back clean energy policies and environmental protections, though Beaton emphasized that the Administration was entering office with an open mind and no actions would be considered during an initial three month freeze period on any new regulations or programs. Renewable energy advocates were happy to hear the Secretary’s announcement at the PV America Conference the previous day that the Administration would continue the Patrick Administration’s commitment of 1600 MW of solar by 2020. Beaton was asked by the panel about another Patrick Administration proposal – the Clean Energy Standard – which would incentivize the purchase of Canadian hydropower in Massachusetts in an effort to achieve the 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act goal of 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. With the proposed program out for public comment, Beaton only said that he would wait to review public comment, but that he would focus on cost-effective solutions. The high cost of electricity in Massachusetts due to constrained supplies of natural gas elicited a lot of interest. While everyone seems to agree that high energy costs are a burden on the economy and that increasing natural gas supply in some manner is the best short-term solution, how to deliver new supply (e.g., new or enhanced pipelines, more Liquid Natural Gas [LNG] deliveries by sea) and how much to deliver given the region’s current over-dependence on natural gas is of much debate. Beaton did not offer a plan for avoiding price spikes next winter but said it would be a focus of his agenda in the coming months. All in all, the evening was a welcomed introduction to the new Secretary and the start of a productive dialogue with the environmental and energy business community.