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Maine Governor Urges FERC to Address New England 'Energy Crisis'

Maine Gov. Paul LePage on Monday asked FERC to address electricity prices in New England, which he said are poised to increase 37% this winter compared with winter 2013-2014.

In a letter to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Cheryl LaFleur, LePage called on FERC to "take immediate action to expand natural gas infrastructure in New England, including steps to move incremental expansions, fast track the regulatory approval and consider natural gas storage as a temporary step. These actions can be taken while the region awaits Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's decision whether to support the rest of New England's initiative to significantly expand natural gas capacity."

LePage, a Republican elected with Tea Party support four years ago, placed much of the blame for potential electricity price hikes on Patrick, a Democrat who has emphasized renewable energy in forming Massachusetts' energy strategy.

"It is time to wake up," LePage said. "New England is in an energy crisis right now, and we desperately need additional natural gas to power our businesses and keep electric bills affordable for households. While prices are spiking, liberals in Massachusetts have opposed natural gas infrastructure, saying they need to study the issue more. This is unconscionable."

Tennessee Gas Pipeline LLC (TGP) has offered Maine a 20-year capacity deal on its proposed Northeast Energy Direct (NED) expansion that it said would drive down Mainers' natural gas and electricity costs (see Daily GPISept. 18). But one day after TGP filed at FERC, Massachusetts submitted a five-page filing outlining its environmental concerns and questioning whether the project is even needed.

"New England households and our businesses are about to experience a catastrophic increase in electric bills," LePage said. "This situation is similar to a massive Nor'easter having just hit Massachusetts and their governor refusing to plow the highways, blocking access to northern New England. More studying now is the equivalent of watching the weather instead of preparing for the storm. We need action now. It's well past the time that New England should have added natural gas pipeline capacity. FERC must step up and address the unprecedented situation that liberals in Massachusetts have created."

LePage said he has also written to Spectra Energy Corp. asking the company to "build out its current system and add natural gas capacity while working with Maine businesses to address these rising energy costs."

Spectra and its pipeline partnership Spectra Energy Partners, along with Northeast Utilities, recently launched Access Northeast project, a $3 billion expansion intended to address supply reliability issues and spiking prices for natural gas in the New England market (see Daily GPISept. 16). The project would target gas-fueled power plants and their peak-day gas demands.

FERC recently ordered the Independent System Operator of New England (ISO New England), grid operator for the increasingly gas-dependent region, to "initiate a stakeholder process to develop a proposal to address reliability concerns for the 2015-2016 winter and future winters" (see Daily GPISept. 11).

ISO-New England's draft Regional System Plan concluded that while plenty of pipelines are being built to carry natural gas away from the Marcellus and Utica shale producing areas, not enough of them are designed to serve New England (see Daily GPISept. 9).

New England turned to natural gas to fuel 42.8% of its capacity and 45.1% of its electric energy production in 2013.

LePage is in the closing weeks of a campaign for a second term as governor. Also running are Democrat Mike Michaud and Eliot Cutler, who is running as an independent. Patrick, who is serving his second term in Massachusetts, chose not to run for reelection this year. Republican Charlie Baker and Democrat Martha Coakley are running for the office.

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