- Office of Attorney General Maura Healey
Media Contact for AG Healey Calls on DPU To Set Course for Equitable, Affordable, and Reliable Clean Energy Future
BOSTON — Today, Attorney General Maura Healey called on the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to develop a regulatory framework for the state’s natural gas industry that is focused on ensuring a clean energy transition for Massachusetts that is safe, reliable, affordable and fair for all gas customers, and not on benefiting utility shareholders.
The AG’s recommendations, Regulating Uncertainty, the Office of the Attorney General’s Regulatory Recommendations to Guide the Commonwealth’s Gas Transition to a Net-Zero Future, were filed today with the DPU as part of its investigation into the role of Massachusetts’ natural gas industry in a net-zero future. The investigation, first called for by the AG’s Office in June 2020, was launched by the DPU in October 2020.
Today’s comments reject unproven plans by gas utilities and urge the establishment of a regulatory framework that aligns gas utility investment with achieving the state’s climate goals, while protecting ratepayers from unnecessary risk, and ensuring the equitable transition to a clean energy future.
“In Massachusetts, we should be setting the path for an energy system that is equitable, reliable, and affordable – not one that pumps more money into gas pipelines and props up utility shareholders,” said AG Healey. “We urge the DPU to move forward with a plan that protects our climate and reduces costs for ratepayers.”
The detailed and comprehensive recommendations put forward by the AG’s Office represent important steps in setting a path for the state to achieve its climate goals and transition to clean energy. Within the AG’s comments are several recommendations to update the DPU’s regulatory framework, including the following:
Reject Utilities’ Plan for Future of Gas Industry
According to the AG’s comments, the utilities put forward plans that rely on unproven and uncertain technologies, along with the continued reliance on ratepayers to build new gas infrastructure. The utilities center their proposals around “hybrid electrification,” a concept where residents would pay to have both a gas furnace and heat pumps in their homes and businesses, using the gas furnace as a “back-up” on extremely cold days. Because putting natural gas through pipes into people’s homes and businesses will not allow the state to meet its net-zero requirements, the utilities propose to introduce what they call “clean” alternatives, such as hydrogen and other methane-based gases. The AG’s Office urges the DPU to reject this plan because it is too risky and there are too many unknowns around costs, feasibility, and whether this approach would actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Prioritize Ratepayer Protection
The AG’s filing urges the DPU to engage in a transparent decision-making process that is based on the most up-to-date science and relevant data and allows for robust and meaningful community input. According to the AG’s Office, the DPU should chart a path for an energy system that is focused on equity, affordability, and fairness for all ratepayers. The AG’s Office specifically recommends that the DPU adopt a rate mechanism to protect low-to-moderate-income ratepayers from high energy burdens and from potential rate increases related to climate investments from both gas and energy utility companies.
Establish Climate Compliant Requirements
The AG’s filing recommends that the DPU require utilities to file a climate compliance plan that shows how the industry will comply with mandated greenhouse emission reduction benchmarks. The AG’s Office also urges the DPU to change how utilities determine whether to repair or replace gas pipelines and to better align the process with state’s climate goals. This includes requiring utilities to demonstrate that their proposed plan for investing in the gas system is the lowest-cost alternative to improving safety and reducing gas leaks, which could include repairing leaky pipes instead of more costly replacements, or targeted electrification and decommissioning of leak prone infrastructure. The DPU should also convene a working group to make recommendations on how to reform the process for addressing leaky gas pipes.
The AG’s filing recommends a transparent and robust alternatives review process as part of the DPU's consideration of traditional gas system investments. Undertaking a comprehensive review of alternatives will ensure that proposed investments are the most favorable option and least-cost alternative to achieve our climate objectives
AG Healey is committed to ensuring access to clean electricity at reasonable prices for all Massachusetts consumers. By statute the AG’s Office of Ratepayer Advocacy represents the interest of ratepayers in proceedings at the DPU.
This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Jo Ann Bodemer, Donald Boecke, Jessica Freedman, Clare Harmon and Paralegal Cecilia Milano, all in the AG’s Energy and Telecommunications Division, along with Chief of the AG’s Energy and Environment Bureau Rebecca Tepper.