How many times have you heard or read these phrases in the last week: energy crisis, higher rates, natural gas pipeline, and wholesale market? Chances are you’ve come across them more than you realize and, certainly, more than you have in the past. Maybe you’ve even brought these topics up in conversation for the first time with your friends or co-workers.

New England’s energy challenges have gotten plenty of attention and the conversation is now moving from, “How did we get here?” to “What needs to happen?” Below is a sample of some of the articles and reports published in recent weeks that discuss how New England might begin to ease the crunch between the region’s needs and its precarious supply.

november gas price spikes

Wholesale natural gas prices in New England are set by Algonquin Citygate. Below-average temperatures in the latter half of the month drove those prices noticeably higher. Source: Energy Information Administration

2014/2015 winter outlook: sufficient power supplies expected, but natural gas pipeline constraints a concern
ISO Newswire, 20 November 2014

“The New England region should have sufficient resources in place this winter to meet consumer demand for electricity; however, insufficient pipeline capacity to meet power generators’ demand for natural gas continues to be a particular concern during the winter months. The retirement of several non-natural-gas-fired power plants since last winter also is a concern.”

Bedford panelists lament region in energy crunch, solution years away
New Hampshire Union Leader, 19 November 2014

“New England governors last year launched an ambitious initiative to finance new pipeline construction at ratepayer expense, but the Massachusetts legislature balked at that plan, which is now in limbo.
The panelists lamented the fact that New England seems incapable of building a consensus around any solution, while other regions of the country are awash in cheap energy.”

With Energy System Strained, New England May Face Rolling Blackouts
WGBH/WCAI, 17 November 2014

“He said the problem just gets worse with every nuclear, coal or oil plant that closes, because it leaves too few power plants generating electricity. He says if the Salem natural gas plant isn’t built by 2016, projections show greater Boston isn’t guaranteed to have enough electricity on peak demand days. There are many steps ISO-New England can take if that actually happens – but in extreme cases operators may have to rely on rolling blackouts as a last resort.”

New England’s Looming ‘Energy Crisis’
Nuclear Energy Institute, 18 November 2014

“These price and reliability challenges will only be exacerbated by the closure of Vermont Yankee. Noting the large electricity rate hikes that utilities across New England already have announced in anticipation of Vermont Yankee’s closing, author and energy expert Jim Conca says that the nuclear plant’s presence helped to mask the underlying rise in wholesale gas prices—a natural result of demand outstripping supply.”

PSNH president: NH electricity rates on seasonal roller coaster
Concord Monitor, 18 November 2014

“’The next winter or two, unfortunately . . . we’re going to see high prices in the market,’ Quinlan told the Monitor in a recent interview, which focused on the state’s energy outlook. ‘The good thing is, I think this is a solvable challenge.’”

Paying for Power: Who Controls the Price of Electricity, 13 November 2014

“GMP generates some of its own power at its Kingdom Community Wind Plant, and has long-term supply contracts with companies like Hydro-Quebec. That means they don’t buy as much energy from other suppliers each year.
‘So the way we manage our power supply with our own sources and long-term power contracts really helps keep our prices much more stable,’ Schnure said. ‘And we’re not exposed to the volatility of the market.’”

N.H. utilities pledge to help customers
Eagle Tribune, 17 November 2014

“As electric rates in Southern New Hampshire soar this fall, the state’s utilities say they’re trying to lessen the impact on customers.
That’s because the impact will be significant, with some rates increasing between 29 and 50 percent.”

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The Cost of Energy Challenges

New Hampshire has long prided itself as a great place to live and a friendly place to start a business. Our lack of a sales or income tax is often touted as the “New Hampshire Advantage.” But that advantage is threatened. This week, Forbes released its annual list of Best States to Do Business. New Hampshire came in at 35. Forbes cited high energy costs as one of the reasons for the ranking.

The business community has become increasingly vocal about the effects rising electricity costs are having on their ability to thrive in New Hampshire. The head of the Business and Industry Association, in fact, says high electricity rates are the most pressing issue for state businesses.


Energy constrained New England states, where power prices are high and supply is volatile, generally rank poorly on the Forbes list.

(The following links are referenced in the above communication)

Best States for Business

NH Friday News Round-up

New Hampshire’s energy future in ‘crisis’
New Hampshire Sunday News

Rising electric costs could crush NH economy
New Hampshire Business Review

Business representatives predict upcoming legislative action
Concord Monitor

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The Waiting Game – How Long and How Much?

Every year, the group that runs our electrical grid, ISO-New England, releases a report that projects the region’s power needs and what must be done to meet those needs in the next ten years. That report, called the 2014 Regional System Plan, was released by ISO New England last week. In it, the regional grid operator echoes the sobering news we’ve been reading lately – we have significant energy challenges that aren’t going away anytime soon.

iso interconnection queue by resource

More than half of the megawatts projected to come on line in the next several years would be produced by natural gas and nearly a third would originate from wind. This chart does not include proposed transmission upgrades which would increase the amount of power available to the grid without necessarily requiring new generation.

The report pointed to several factors that are expected to again bring us higher energy prices this winter, including another year of limited natural gas pipeline capacity. The report also notes that advances in energy efficiency will slow the growth of electricity use over the next ten years, but New England still needs new sources of power to replace the large number of generating plants that are scheduled to retire.

Several proposals on the table would help address the problem, including plans to increase supplies of natural gas and clean energy, but it will be several years before any is brought online. That’s a long time to expect high prices and uncertainty about the reliability of our grid. Until then, the region remains in the midst of a cold and expensive waiting game.


2014 Regional System Plan
ISO-New England, 6 November 2014

Electricity prices will spike this winter, grid operators warn
New Haven Register, 6 November 2014

New power plants needed to offset closings
CommonWealth Magazine, 6 November 2014

NU Earnings Up 12% In Quarter, 6 November 2014

Power prices to stay high, report says
Boston Globe, 5 November 2014

Natural Gas Soars On Fears of a Polar Redux
Wall Street Journal, 4 November 2014

New England Electricity Prices Spike As Gas Pipelines Lag
NHPR, 5 November 2014

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How Did We Get Here?

Energy has been a major topic for candidates to debate this year as voters want to know how and when they’ll find relief from rising electricity bills. Attention on the region’s energy supply challenges has intensified in the last two months as utility companies began to announce rate increases.

residential electricity prices

Electricity prices rose faster in New England in the first half of the year than in any other region of the country. Source:

But the discussion about what’s happening in New England and the need to find solutions has been gaining steam for the last year. Here’s a look back at the evolution of that conversation, through the articles that we thought best explain the region’s complicated situation.


The Horrible Lack Of Planning That Could Force New England Into A Serious Energy Crisis This Winter
Forbes, 5 December 2013

“Natural gas flows into New England from the south via the Tennessee Gas Pipeline and the Algonquin Gas Transmission. Last winter, these pipelines were operating at near or full capacity nearly every day. Unlike New York and New Jersey, the pipelines transporting gas into New England have not expanded in years and are not scheduled to expand until 2016 at the earliest.

The result is an escalating energy crisis in New England.”

Region’s electrical grid feeling strain of cold-weather demand
New Hampshire Union Leader, 17 December 2013

“On Saturday, grid operators had to implement more drastic measures, using emergency reserves and buying power from the New York ISO for several hours in the late afternoon and early evening, according to ISO-NE spokeswoman Ellen Foley.”


Energy: In New England, we pay 40% above U.S. average
New Hampshire Union Leader, 7 January 2014

“In addition to discouraging business expansion or relocation to the region, high energy prices sap resources for consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of the economy, she said.

New Hampshire consumers have already seen increases in electricity costs for 2013 versus 2012, with no relief in sight.”

Ratepayers would pick up gas pipeline tab under New England governors’ proposal
New Hampshire Union Leader, 27 January 2014

“Governors of the six New England states want a new natural gas pipeline into New England, and are willing to put ratepayer dollars on the line to get it done.”


With power plants closing, auction hints at possible electricity shortage by 2017
Nashua Telegraph, 7 February 2014

“’The large number of resource retirements – nearly 10 percent of the region’s total capacity – announced in just the past few months has caused a dramatic shift in the region’s power supply landscape,’ said Gordon van Welie, ISO New England’s president and chief executive officer, in a press release. ‘The region abruptly went from a capacity surplus and low prices in previous auctions to a capacity shortfall and relatively high prices.’”


Winter’s energy costs exceed $5B
Hartford Business Journal, 1 April 2014

“The cost of electricity was $5.1 billion in New England from December to February, the result of cold temperatures and high demand for a limited amount of natural gas, according to regional power grid administrator ISO New England.

By comparison, in 2012, the cost of electricity for all 12 months was $5.2 billion.”

Energy chief bemoans region’s infrastructure
Boston Globe, 22 April 2014

“Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, stopping in Providence and Hartford in a months-long federal review of energy issues, said New England doesn’t share the good news developing in the field of energy with the rest of the country.”


Is energy market volatility a sign of things to come?
New Hampshire Business Review, 2 May 2014

“’We have a long history of high energy prices,’ said Dennis Delay, an economist with the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, pointing to the region’s geographic location and its history of having many energy-intensive manufacturing companies.

While the industrial face of the region has changed, volatile energy markets have not, and the region remains vulnerable to the possibility of the kind of crippling shortages and brownouts that occurred in California in the late 1990s.”


An energy crisis in the offing?
Foster’s Daily Democrat, 22 June 2014

“It is estimated that New England is in the process of losing 3,000 megawatts of energy due to the closing of Vermont Yankee and the loss of coal-fired facilities like Salem Harbor Coal Plant.
We are not looking to argue about the closure of these facilities. The problem lies in not replacing them.”


New England energy officials warn of possible power crisis; governors infrastructure initiative could be the solution
Concord Monitor, 2 July 2014

“’The lights did not go out this past winter,’ said Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources’s Nicholas Ucci at the forum hosted by the New England Council business association. ‘That doesn’t mean that they can’t.’”


Unitil predicts higher electricity costs this winter
Concord Monitor, 27 September 2014

“Both the Co-op and Unitil said the upcoming rate increases are due largely to the region’s limited natural gas pipeline capacity.

Roughly half of the power plants in New England use natural gas to generate electricity, up from 15 percent in 2000, according to the regional grid operator ISO-New England.”




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A Nice Boon to the Area

town-and-countryThe health of the economy is a constant concern for people who live in the North Country. As paper mills and other companies have closed down, the region has turned to other industries to keep their economy moving. The tourism and hospitality industry is one, providing hundreds of jobs in hotels, inns, restaurants, gas stations and local stores. Summer, fall foliage, and ski and snowmobile season are all busy times for these North Country businesses, but as anyone from up north will tell you, tourism sharply drops in the late fall and in spring.

Scott-LabnonGetting through these lean times can be a challenge for both workers and businesses owners. Having something else to draw people to the region besides tourism, such as large-scale construction projects, can help, according to Scott Labnon, owner of the Town & Country Inn and Resort in Shelburne. In this video, Labnon talks about how large construction projects helped give a boost to his family business. During construction of the Burgess biomass plant and the federal prison in Berlin, the Town & Country saw an uptick in business in their restaurant and lounge. This kept the Inn busy during typically slow times and led to the hiring of more staff.

Northern Pass will be one of the largest construction projects in New Hampshire, requiring hundreds of workers. Like these other projects, Northern Pass will bring more business into local communities.

“I’m sure all the diners and restaurants along the Route 3 corridor heading up to Colebrook would see a big influx,” said Labnon.

Watch the video to hear more of what Labnon has to say about the economic boost large construction projects have brought to the North Country.

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Energy: Everyone’s talking about it

We’re always talking about energy (of course!), but we’re not the only ones these days, especially with election season entering its final throes. Utility costs are on the rise, power plants are retiring, and New England desperately needs to tap new sources of energy to ensure reliability and restore fuel diversity to our grid.

But you’ve heard us say this plenty of times before. Let’s take a look at what the rest of New England is saying about these critical issues:

Electricity impasse
(CommonWealth Magazine)
“The problem is not a resource issue, but an inability to reach consensus on the region’s energy future. Should we add pipeline capacity and import more natural gas into the region? Should we buy hydroelectricity from Canada? Should we push for more homegrown wind and solar power?”

Energy costs need to be top campaign issue
(Portsmouth Herald)
“This is a serious and exponentially growing problem for every New Hampshire, Maine and New England resident. As a region and as a nation, we continue to struggle with the issue of energy supply and demand. It is something that should be on the lips of every candidate for office this year — from the US Senate, to governor, to state representative — yet the collective silence has been deafening.”

Will it take a major blackout before we act?
(Foster’s Daily Democrat)
“The reality is there’s something seriously wrong with the markets in which nuclear and coal plants are operating — which do not value the essential need for base-load capacity and which do not value fuel diversity, let alone the environmental advantages of using zero-carbon nuclear power.”

Job Opening: Political Scapegoat For New England’s Out Of Control Energy Prices
“The failure to build a pipeline will devastate consumers, increase air pollution by burning more oil and coal and create a competitive economic disadvantage for New England compared with other regions. Preventing construction of the pipeline will not prevent fracking.”

Business tax among areas where Hassan, Havenstein disagree at Chamber forum
(Nashua Telegraph)
“Both candidates supported in general two energy ideas – bringing electricity from hydropower down from Quebec and bringing more natural gas into New Hampshire – but expressed reservations about the details, especially the parts that have drawn opposition.”

Shaheen criticizes Brown’s energy policy
(Concord Monitor)
“U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is turning the focus to energy this week. Shaheen’s campaign today released a report highlighting votes her Republican opponent, Scott Brown, has taken on energy policy that she says will take New Hampshire in the wrong direction.”

Brown meets with Hampton mom facing ‘shock’ of electric rate hikes
(Portsmouth Herald)
“While Brown didn’t specifically name any particular business energy taxes or regulations he’d like to reduce or eliminate, he said a focus needs to be paid on reducing costs to energy producers so those producers can pass along savings to consumers instead of increases.”

State Senate candidates weigh in on rising electricity costs, long-term energy strategy for New Hampshire
(Concord Monitor)
“During recent interviews with the Monitor, the two candidates for state Senate District 15 outlined sharply different approaches to rising energy costs in New Hampshire. The district includes Concord, Henniker, Hopkinton and Warner; 20-year state Sen. Sylvia Larsen of Concord announced her retirement from that seat earlier this year.”


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Stuck on an infrastructure island

The federal government is the latest entity to join the growing list of people and groups voicing concern about New England’s energy pinch.

Last week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, issued its yearly Winter Energy Market Assessment – a preview of what the federal oversight agency expects will happen to energy supplies, prices, and markets across the country during the winter months. It found that New England is at great risk for high prices with little relief in sight. This analysis prompted one commissioner to call New England “somewhat of an island from an infrastructure standpoint.”

The spike in electricity rates announced last month by several utilities are the result of many factors which are expected to play out again this winter—including our lack of adequate energy infrastructure. New England is on an infrastructure island where natural gas can’t reach power plants when it’s needed the most. Without added natural gas pipelines, these high prices will continue, something even residents in communities along natural gas pipeline routes are starting to acknowledge.

New England cannot obtain lower energy costs with more natural gas alone. Vermont Yankee and Salem Harbor, two large non-gas power plants, will both be closed by the end of 2014 and the future of other power plants in the region has been called into question, risking the fuel diversity that is key to price and grid stability.

It will also take more than expanded natural gas capacity to help New England its renewable energy goals. This effort will require new infrastructure. Whether it’s wind, solar or Canadian hydropower, new clean energy projects need transmission lines to get the power to the people.
New energy projects have the potential to lower energy costs and create jobs while still respecting the environment. But the ongoing debate about new energy projects reminds us of the challenges before us.

futures prices for EB FINAL

(The links below are used in the above communication)

Winter 2014-15 Energy Market Assessment

Grid operators wary of coming winter
(Utility Dive)

Pittsfield council puts off vote on gas pipeline
(Berkshire Eagle)

Oil, natural gas prices confound New England
(AP via Nashua Telegraph)

Bridgeport’s coal plant in for the long run
(Connecticut Post)

The Value of US Power Diversity

Lack of transmission lines stand in way of wind power
(Republican American)

Party lines and pipelines: Candidates talk energy
(AP via Bloomberg Businessweek)

Patrick’s energy policies under criticism
(Boston Globe)

Patrick administration launches review of state’s natural gas needs
(Boston Business Journal)

Electric power rights of way a new frontier for conservation
(Yale Environment 360)

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Forecasting a stormy energy future

There’s been plenty of reason to dread the upcoming winter but here’s some good news: according to the Energy Department, it may not be as cold as last year.winter energy rates nh

Yet, regardless of what the forecast brings, the damage is done. The same combination of factors that played out last winter is driving power prices for many New Englanders to extremes. We’re, if anything, more vulnerable now than we were a year ago: two major New England power plants will be retired by year’s end without new sources to replace them and there’s been no increase in the region’s pipeline to support our growing demand for natural gas to produce electricity (which leaves little, if any, gas to generate power on the coldest days of the year because the fuel available in the pipeline needs to be used for heating instead.) All that uncertainty has already influenced prices, even if we’re treated to a mild winter.

As media all over New England are reporting, business owners are facing some rough months ahead, non-profits are wondering how they’re going to make up for significant hits to their budgets, and core industries are blaming energy costs as a major reason to close up shop. People are looking for explanations, calling for investigations into how this could happen.

New England’s emerging energy crisis is sure to inspire many spirited discussions over the next few months, but one thing is certain: we need to give serious consideration to the new, diverse sources of energy being proposed for the region. We can’t leave our energy security up to New England’s fickle winter forecast.

(The links below are used in the above communication)

Home Heating Costs Likely to Be Cheaper This Winter
(New York Times)

Northeast U.S. Gas at Decade-High for Winter on Supply

Power cost increase going into effect despite plentiful natural gas inventory
(Taunton Daily Gazette)

Consumers to get shocking lessons about electricity
(Portsmouth Herald)

Electric customers are going to pay
(Nashua Telegraph)

Businesses to see high electricity costs this winter
(WCSH 6 – Portland)

Residents, businesses grapple with looming electricity rate spike
(Concord Monitor)

Brockton area officials concerned about National Grid rate surge
(The Enterprise)

Energy costs among chief culprits in Bucksport mill’s demise
(Portland Press Herald)

Gary Rayno’s State House Dome: A winter of discontent over energy costs
(New Hampshire Union Leader)

Attorney general protests rate hike
(Boston Globe)

Renewables are in New England’s future, but gas pipelines still needed
(Boston Globe)

Editorial: Electric rate hikes result from wishful thinking on energy
(Eagle Tribune)

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Higher prices, now what?

Energy insiders and public officials are starting to talk more bluntly about New England’s emerging crisis and what it will mean for the average home and business owner:

“What we thought was very scary last fall may be even scarier this year.”

“This winter will be another challenge for New Hampshire citizens.”

“…New England this winter, based on what’s been recently trading, is likely to have the highest natural gas prices on planet earth.”

“This is going to hurt everyone; individuals, families and businesses…Time to circle the wagons and fight this.”

Eye popping rate increases that stand to burden so many New Englanders this winter are among the many challenges facing the region in the months and years ahead. Retiring power plants will further strain the supply of reliable power and recent attempts to build consensus around region-wide solutions have come up short.

While the public looks to sparring policy makers to ease the situation, they may not find a clear or easy answer. The good news is that several proposed projects could provide relief (though even if approved today, none would be online for several more years). One pipeline or one renewable energy transmission project won’t fill New England’s growing gap between supply and demand on its own; combined, however, these proposals can help the region achieve a more affordable, diverse and reliable energy future.

N.H. Energy Summit takeaway: expect natural gas spikes again this winter
(New Hampshire Business Review)

Energy experts worry about upcoming winter
(Foster’s Daily Democrat)

As Electricity Prices Rise, Policy Makers Ponder Solutions
(New Hampshire Public Radio)

National Grid customers, lawmakers charged up over rate increase
(Berkshire Eagle)

Regulators OK 47 percent rate hike for Liberty Utilities customers
(New Hampshire Union Leader)

Rate hike could be more than many can handle
(Boston Globe)

Closing Vermont Nuclear Bad Business For Everyone

LePage urges federal regulators to fast-track natural gas pipelines
(Portland Press Herald)

Maine Candidates for Governor Spar Over Natural Gas Pipeline
(Maine Public Broadcasting Network)

Candidate answers vague on electricity price spike
(CommonWealth Magazine)

Price we pay for not stepping on the gas
(Lowell Sun)

We should be looking at how to boost energy infrastructure
(Boston Globe)

Clean energy jobs: Gov. Deval Patrick said report shows economy can grow while being environmentally responsible
(Springfield Republican)

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Energy crisis hits home

For those of you who’ve regularly read the Energy Brief over the course of the last year, the recent news of rising electricity rates will come as no surprise. Still, the sticker shock is so significant it’s hard to pick just a few headlines to share.

Several New Hampshire utilities have recently asked state regulators to approve significant increases in the ‘energy’ component of their rates, driving the average electric bill for some NH residents this winter as much as 50 percent higher a month. Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, rates are expected to hit record levels.

nh v national average pricesFINAL

Data from the Energy Information Administration shows NH energy prices are much higher in most categories than the U.S. average. Numbers as of June, 2014.

These increases will shrink homeowners’ disposable income, add to local businesses operating costs and strain local government budgets. Consumer advocates and opinion makers are already asking officials to do something to soften the blow, both this winter and in winters to come.

New England’s increased demand for natural gas must be addressed, but if the focus is only on pipelines and the supply of natural gas, the region’s overall problem will not be corrected. Overreliance on natural gas has left New England more susceptible to price volatility on the energy market at the same time that a number of non-gas fired power plants have announced retirement. While adding more pipelines can help minimize the price spikes, it does nothing to reduce our dependence on natural gas in the long term, and does not get us to our clean energy goals.

Our high electricity and home heating prices have made energy a political issue across New England. People are looking to elected officials to help with the problem, but they remain in a tough position. With opposition to pipelines, transmission lines, wind turbines and more, finding balance between local interests and the region’s energy needs will continue to be a challenge.

Prior issues of the Energy Brief

Electric rates set to spike this winter
(Boston Globe)

“Energy industry officials have been warning for several years that New England’s growing dependence on natural gas could result in price spikes if steps such as the expansion of the pipeline system are not taken. About two-thirds of the electricity used in Massachusetts is made with natural gas, up from about 40 percent just six years ago.”

Unitil Predicts Higher Electricity Costs This Winter

(Concord Monitor)

If approved, the company’s energy charge will nearly double, increasing to 15.5 cents per kilowatt-hour from the current 8.4 cents. The new rate would take effect Dec. 1.

Liberty Utilities requests a 46% rate hike
(New Hampshire Union Leader)

“An average residential customer using 665 kilowatt hours a month would see his bill rise by $51.57 a month, from $110.48 to $162.05.”

Electricity Prices Soar
(Commonwealth Magazine)

“The sharply higher rates are coming at a time when several of the region’s coal power plants are shutting down and the New England governors are debating where replacement electricity will come from.”

Consumer advocate seeks relief on Liberty rate hike

“New Hampshire’s Consumer Advocate has asked regulators to soften the blow of a big rate hike expected for as many as 42,000 New Hampshire electricity customers.”

Help for New England’s energy demands

“State and federal authorities responsible for choosing a plan must balance all competing public interests — and preferably on an expedited time table.”

Everywhere but Northeast, fewer homes choose natural gas as heating fuel
(EIA: Today in Energy)

“(Nationally) electricity has been gaining market share at the expense of natural gas. The Northeast is the exception, as both natural gas and electricity have been increasing while distillate fuel oil and kerosene have declined.”

Abundant natural gas won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough
(Huffington Post)

“Their modeling found that having a high supply of natural gas does little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the future, largely because the use of gas slowed the transition to renewables.”

Maine Voices: With Maine at clean-energy tipping point, next governor will play key role
(Portland Press Herald)

“In the long term, the state must also find more environmentally friendly and cost-effective heating and electricity solutions.”

Deval Patrick’s renewable revolution
(Boston Business Review)

“It was Patrick, as the state’s chief executive, who set the tone that spurred a steady stream of new laws and regulations that dramatically reshaped the state’s energy policy.

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