Massachusetts is among the handful of states that drive energy policy and technology progress in the United States. So industry insiders watch keenly when a new governor takes office.
This is especially true with the election of Governor Charlie Baker for a couple of reasons.
First, he follows Deval Patrick, who spent the last eight years pushing an aggressive green tech energy agenda that put Massachusetts on the map for energy efficiency and solar, and boosted an emerging microgrid sector.
Second, while Patrick is a Democrat, Baker is a Republican, a party that’s not always friendly to green energy, especially when the six letter word comes into the conversation: carbon.
Time will tell how Baker shapes energy policy. But he’s made early moves that look encouraging for the kind of disruptive energy tech we write about here: energy efficiency, microgrids, energy storage, distributed generation, local energy.
Baker is saying the right things. In his inauguration speech, he cited “a direct link between economic growth and a sustainable and affordable supply of energy.”
He noted that inadequate energy delivery systems (natural gas pipeline) has led to high energy bills in the state. And he said he looks forward to solving the problem with the other New England governors “while we continue to reduce our carbon footprint.”
Moreover, his choice of key actors suggests he will value intelligent energy policy and independent markets.
Some question the appointment of Ron Gerwatowski, since he arrives from one of the state’s major utilities, National Grid. True, but Gerwatowski is widely known for his acumen when it comes to electricity regulation and markets. Gerwatowski, who is the new assistant secretary for energy, is the former senior vice president for US regulation and pricing for National Grid.
Further, any concern about Gerwatowski’s utility leanings are countered by Baker’s appointment of Angie O’Connor as chair of the Department of Public Utilities. O’Connor for many years was in the other camp, independent power.
Grounded in markets, she was a lead player on behalf of independent power during some very heated New England debates in the early- to mid part of the last decade. These include some nail-biting David and Goliath battles between local generation developers and Hydro-Quebec, which perpetually seeks a greater toehold in the region.
After that O’Connor served as executive director for New England operations for TechNet. The organization favored Massachusetts’ grid modernization efforts, which open the door for disruptive energy.
Massachusetts is a leader in energy innovation for a host of reasons. One is pure survival. It has the highest electric demand in New England, but no indigenous fossil fuels. Hence, it is often in search of ways to ease its reliance on out-of-state energy. Further, it was one of the early states to restructure its utility industry and open it to more competition, which attracted innovation and the kind of players that drive change.
And of course, it is home to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard and a host of tech companies.
Baker’s words and his appointments suggest he will continue to push disruptive energy, likely with a strong dose of market competition.
Energy entrepreneurs often say the worst situation is when policymakers do nothing. Some even prefer policy they don’t like over stagnant decision-making. New energy businesses can’t be left treading water; they need to know which way to swim. It looks like there will still be plenty of channel races in Massachusetts over the next four years.
So if you’re among those who carefully watch the Massachusetts energy scene, don’t stop now.
What do you see ahead for Massachusetts energy policy? Let us know. Join the discussion on our Linkedin group, Energy Efficiency Markets.