Coming Soon to a Utility Bill Near You?

The New York Times today has a long news story (“Energy Bills Send Shivers in New England”) about soaring utility bills in the Northeast, where many people are seeing 100 percent increases in their energy costs over just a few months ago:

For October, [John York] had paid $376. For November, with virtually no change in his volume of work and without having turned up the thermostat in his two-room shop, his bill came to $788, a staggering increase of 110 percent. “This is insane,” he said, shaking his head. “We can’t go on like this.”

For months, utility companies across New England have been warning customers to expect sharp price increases, for which the companies blame the continuing shortage of pipeline capacity to bring natural gas to the region.

Now that the higher bills are starting to arrive, many stunned customers are finding the sticker shock much worse than they imagined. Mr. York said he would have to reduce his hours, avoid hiring any new employees, cut other expenses and ultimately pass the cost on to his customers. . .

For the coming winter, National Grid, the largest utility in Massachusetts, expects prices to rise to 24.24 cents, a record high. The average customer will pay $121.20 a month, a 37 percent increase from $88.25 last winter.

As you see, the story identifies a shortage of pipeline infrastructure to bring in natural gas, and indeed we ought to be allowing the construction of new infrastructure to enable the fruits of our domestic hydrocarbon boom to be more widely shared (Keystone XL anyone?), but does this make sense as the chief explanation of rising utility prices in the Northeast?

The story makes no mention of the elephant sticking its trunk in the door: could these utility increases have anything to do with “reggie,” that is the RGGI—Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, whereby Northeastern states intend to solve climate change on their own? I have no idea whether it does or not, but with various measures already well-advanced to suppress fossil fuels, move to renewable electricity sources (solar power works so well in the winter in the Northeast) as well as a market for tradable emissions permits (whose costs are added to ratepayers’ bills), it seems like a question someone ought to be asking. Especially since the EPA wants to take this scheme national with its greenhouse gas rules that essentially amount to a blank check for the EPA to restructure America’s entire electricity sector. It’s quite likely that the EPA’s scheme, if implemented, will do for your utility bill what is happening in the Northeast right now. (See this NERA report—PDF file—for one estimate of its staggering costs.)

There is one modest and indirect clue buried deep in the story that gives away the game:

A year ago, the governors of the six New England states agreed to pursue a coordinated regional strategy, including more pipelines and at least one major transmission line for hydropower. The plan called for electricity customers in all six states to subsidize the projects, on the theory that they would make up that money in lower utility bills.

But in August, the Massachusetts Legislature rejected the plan, saying in part that cheap energy would flood the market and thwart attempts to advance wind and solar projects. That halted the whole effort.  (Emphasis added.)

Can’t have “cheap energy” flooding the market!  People might turn on light bulbs!  Get a bigger flat screen TV!  Renewables only “work” if conventional energy is suppressed to make it artificially more expensive.

Which brings me briefly to . . . Mitt Romney. There’s a boomlet for Romney to run again in 2016. But in addition to losing in 2012, let me mention the final two strikes against him. It was bad enough in 2012 that he had to do contortions to distinguish Romneycare from Obamacare, but how is he going to get out of explaining Jonathan Gruber’s involvement in Romneycare? There are videos of Governor Romney praising Gruber.

And on the electricity business, Romney was one of the cheerleaders for “reggie.” And who was one of his chief advisers and architects of the scheme? Gina McCarthy, current head of the EPA, and chief “reality denier” when it comes to the potential cost impact of the EPA’s proposed national scheme.

So yeah, maybe Romney could run again in 2016. But in which party? I hear Democrats are looking for a wider field than they have now. Someone might ask him if he’d keep McCarthy on as head of the EPA is he is elected, and more broadly, whether he supports the EPA’s new greenhouse gas regulations.

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