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October 25, 2012

Study: 'Smart' infrastructure key to New England economic growth

BOSTON — 14.53 cents per kilowatt hour, Massachusetts is the fourth priciest state for electricity, behind New York, Connecticut and Hawaii, according to a study released Tuesday that calls for a new way of thinking about infrastructure development in New England.

Three other New England states rank among the top 10 in energy costs, according to a study offered by the business-backed New England Council.

“Our biggest weakness is the energy cost, and the rest of North America is looking pretty happy at natural gas pricing,” said Mike Reopel, a consultant at Deloitte, which helped write the study. “We have a cul-de-sac in North America.”

Natural gas pipelines end in New England, a region with few energy resources of its own. The study recommends the region maintain its nuclear power plants, develop natural gas infrastructure and consider another liquefied natural gas terminal, which would provide backup capacity during peak demand, beyond the region’s lone on-shore terminal in Everett.

The study recommends decreasing residential reliance on home heating oil to create more demand for natural gas and natural gas infrastructure development. It also calls for developing a regional consensus on renewable energy, including offshore wind power.

Technology is key, according to Reopel, and New England has an advantage in that area, with universities and community colleges linking skilled workers to jobs.

Transportation remains another hurdle in New England, especially in Massachusetts. The study cites a 2011 Texas Transportation Institute study, which found Boston to be the ninth worst metropolitan area in terms of hours lost per commute because of traffic congestion. That’s a deficiency that could be hampering the economy, according to the study.

In the area of transportation, the study recommends “smart infrastructure” that measures a driver’s use of roadways and then charges them for that. One such proposal, a vehicle-miles traveled fee, has raised privacy concerns that the government could see where private individuals travel in their cars, but Reopel predicted the need to decongest roadways would make that idea more palatable.

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