Over the coming decades, the state’s largest utilities have plans to spend billions of dollars upgrading a vast network of aging pipes and mains that distribute natural gas, after billions they’ve already spent in recent years.

But much of those plans clash with a landmark bill that Governor Charlie Baker signed last month that requires the state to effectively eliminate its carbon emissions by 2050.

Some environmental advocates and lawmakers fear that continued investments in gas infrastructure could hinder the transition to renewable energy and leave ratepayers covering the costs of an obsolete energy system for decades. They support repairing leaky pipes and those that pose a danger to the public, but they’re pressing the utilities to spend far more on zero-emissions technologies.


Environmental advocates have said they worry utilities are trying to steer the state toward solutions that would allow them to continue to retain control of the market. They questioned, for example, utilities’ suggestions that they could repurpose their system to distribute hydrogen, which is highly combustible, expensive, and far more likely to leak.

They’re also pressing ISO New England, which operates the regional power grid, to change its rules to make it easier for renewable energy sources, especially offshore wind, to compete with gas, which has been a favored source of energy because of its relatively low cost and reliability.

Without changes to the rules, it’s unlikely the state will meet its emissions obligations under the new climate law, they said.

“If offshore wind is given a chance to compete, it will save ratepayers billions of dollars,” said Deborah Donovan, a senior policy advocate at the Acadia Center in Boston. “We need the ISO to help us achieve the state’s goals.”

Read the full article in the Boston Globe here