Maine received our first snowfall of the season a few weeks ago. As I woke up on that Monday morning, I was greeted by flurries outside my window and the gentle rumble of my heat pump warming my home. Having lived in New England my entire life, I know our winters are no joke – and neither are the utility bills that come with them.
I’m lucky that my electric heat pump helps my family save money on heating costs. But even with those savings, we’re still feeling this season’s electricity price spikes. And my family isn’t the only one.
Across New England, electricity prices are skyrocketing. Eversource wants to up its prices by 43% in Massachusetts. Central Maine Power customers can expect to see a nearly 50% increase in their bills starting this month. These are drastic changes – and they put immense pressure on New England families. Worse, these cost increases will force some families to choose between keeping the lights and heat on or putting food on the table this winter. No one should have to make that choice.
So why are New England electricity prices rising? Let’s dig into the main causes and what we can do to stave off such price spikes in the future.
Fossil Fuels Make New England’s Electricity Expensive
The price we pay for electricity is generally determined by a form of auction that our states or utilities run once or twice a year. Companies that sell power bid into the auction, and most often the lowest priced bidder gets selected. Those bids depend on the costs associated with producing the electricity these companies sell – and fossil fuels make electricity production more expensive.
Our region relies heavily on burning imported fossil fuels like natural gas to generate electricity. These fuels are costly – and their prices are increasing steadily over time. Regions like New England that rely on piping their fuels long distances, in Maine’s case all the way to the end of the line, pay even more.
State policies also cause price fluctuations. In New Hampshire, for example, the state’s lack of strong energy efficiency programs and clean energy requirements for its utilities significantly affect local electricity rates. Vermont, on the other hand, relies far less on fossil fuel–generated electricity. That has helped to insulate families and businesses from the more drastic price spikes seen in other New England states.
Fossil Fuels Are Also Price Volatile
Unfortunately, the price volatility of fossil fuels makes these cost increases even worse. Because of New England’s dependence on imported liquified natural gas, we must contend with drastically inflated prices when international crises affect supply lines – crises like Russia’s ongoing war on Ukraine
Russia provides most of Europe’s natural gas, and the loss of that supply has required European countries to increase their imports of natural gas from other countries. The massive increases in global demand for liquefied natural gas results in skyrocketing prices.
The reality is, New England must contend with drastically inflated prices when international crises affect supply lines. Until the region breaks free from fossil fuels, we will always be at risk from such geopolitical catastrophes that are beyond our control.
Clean Energy Can Solve New England’s High Electricity Prices
Keeping our lights on and houses warm should be affordable and reliable. No family should have to choose between affording the necessities, powering our homes, or damaging the climate. We deserve better – we deserve clean energy.
Renewable energy sources like solar and wind are not only cheaper than fossil fuels (and continuing to drop in price), but they can also be developed right here in New England. What’s more, solar and wind energy run on plentiful free fuel and so aren’t vulnerable to the international crises that afflict fossil fuel supplies. That means far more stable and consistent prices.
Strong energy efficiency programs are also critical. Reducing the demand for energy through weatherization, better appliances, and more is yet another way families can cut down on their electricity bills and the region can use less electricity overall.
To Avoid More Price Spikes, New England Must Invest in Clean Energy, Now
We need solutions that can be implemented at scale and benefit all families. That’s why our state governments must spearhead clean energy solutions.
We are on the right track, with nearly every state having a climate law on the books that mandates deep cuts in climate-damaging emissions. But now we need to implement these laws. And we need to do so in a way that ramps up our energy transition with real clean energy, not greenwashed fuels like so-called “renewable” natural gas or biofuels that are just code for business as usual by fossil fuel companies.
To achieve that ramp up, state agencies must actively work to bring new renewable electricity generation online. And they can do so by rewarding utility-scale clean energy usage through programs like Renewable Portfolio Standards (which provides financial incentives to utilities for using clean energy). State governments also must strengthen energy efficiency programs by making their goals more ambitious and ensuring their benefits are accessible to low- and moderate-income families. And our regional electric grid operator, ISO-New England, must step up on climate change, paving the way for clean energy to flood the grid. CLF is pushing for these moves in every state to make sure New England can keep the lights on in the winter.
These are long-term solutions, yes. But adopting clean energy today means more affordable, price-stable electricity tomorrow. Even as we contend with this year’s winter price spikes, we must fight to make sure that no winter ever puts our families in this difficult position again. It’s past time to get off fossil fuels.