Officials propose aid for ‘devastating’ energy crisis this winter

An “energy crisis” is on it’s way this winter, and officials throughout the state are worried.

Energy price surges are hitting the state hard, with an over 60% electric bill increase for National Grid customers announced Wednesday.

Across the board, electric and gas prices are likely to follow, and state officials are seeking out any aid to “ensure our residents can survive the winter,” as Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin put it.

The skyrocketing rates come as natural gas supplies — which make up about two-thirds of the states energy supply, according to the EIA’s most recent numbers — have been severely tightened by the war in Ukraine.

“This is something that literally all of the New England governors have been talking about and pushing the feds on since July,” said Gov. Charlie Baker at a press event Thursday, noting the state leaders are “very worried.”

The states have been in “pretty active discussions” with the Biden administration, Baker said, but have not yet received full responses on requests for specific aid.

Six New England governors, including Baker, signed onto a letter in July calling for an increase in fuel supplies, an assessment of a new strategic energy reserve and greater coordination on energy issues.

Galvin also called Thursday for buildup of a reserve supply of oil for heating, which is used in a quarter of Massachusetts homes, ahead of the winter.

“While gas prices have fluctuated recently, the price of home heating oil has remained consistently high,” Galvin said in a statement Thursday. “With the transition in the Governor’s office coming during the coldest month of the year, we need to be planning for this potential crisis now.”

Under the proposal, the Legislature would place a reserve fund of $50 million in the care of the treasurer’s office, used to make sure Massachusetts has the oil supply to keep homes heated.

Attorney General Maura Healey said her office brought together utility companies, state administrators and regulators Wednesday to formulate solutions.

Healey remarked on a recent move in New Hampshire which expanded eligibility for heating assistance, noting expanding the assistance eligibility or state funding was worth “exploring.”

In the long run, Healey said, this crisis points to the need to decrease reliance on natural gas.

“Growing our portfolio of energy sources — that is absolutely essential,” Healey said. “So that we have access to solar, wind, storage, hydro and other energy sources.”

Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren also advertised a record $307.5 million — “more than double Massachusetts’s typical annual funding” — for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program in Massachusetts.

The assistance programs are distributed through Community Action Agencies for families’ fuel bills, weatherization and other costs.

“Our most vulnerable residents need support staying warm this winter,” Markey tweeted.