by Rick Kidder, President/CEO of SouthCoast Chamber

Like most people in Massachusetts, I value and applaud the commitment our state has made to being an environmental leader. Here on the South Coast, we are excited to lead the way on offshore wind development and share the desire to have our future energy needs provided for by renewable sources. As a pragmatist, I note that a 100% renewable future is a long way away, and as we welcome the growth of green power — and green jobs — we still need to have policies in place that keep energy costs reasonable and prevent needless gorging on coal and oil.

It goes without saying that the high cost of energy is problematic for consumers and for businesses. You’ve heard it over and over again: we pay the highest electricity prices in the continental United States. We know that this is a regional problem because New Englanders paying an estimated $1 billion in increased energy costs every year. Massachusetts is also the fifth costliest state in which to do business. For a high tech company choosing between Silicon Valley and Boston, this might be less of an issue, but we run the risk that an existing manufacturer in New Bedford may view the price of energy as cost-prohibitive and choose to head to a location out of state where energy costs are lower. Worse yet, we may never know the potential employers we have lost or could lose who made a choice other than our communities due to fears about current and future energy costs.

We are still a manufacturing and cold storage center, and reliability remains a concern. This winter’s cold snap brought that cold, hard reality to Massachusetts and the rest of the region — we simply do not have enough clean sources of energy to keep our businesses running. To ease the burden on consumers and to help business and manufacturing grow we need to expand our access to natural gas.

Natural gas is currently the most widely used form of electricity production in Massachusetts, powering most of our buildings and heating more than half of our homes with nearly 100% reliability. Expanding natural gas infrastructure along an existing footprint in a safe, thoughtful manner could begin delivering lower cost electricity to consumers within five years. If we commit to expanding our natural gas supply (and keeping the pipeline within its existing footprint), we can lower our energy costs and add enough electricity to power more than 5 million homes within 5 years — all while moving ahead with our climate goals as our planned renewable energy sources come online.