While we are currently enjoying the summer season in Massachusetts, we should not forget that winter looms ahead. Last winter we faced a crisis when we were unable to access the natural gas needed to run our electric power plants. Massachusetts consumers were left with no other choice but to pay approximately $1.5 billion more than the rest of the country to keep the plants running and the lights on.
In 2000, only 15% of our electricity was generated from natural gas fueled power plants and we began an environmentally conscious effort to move electric generation from dirty oil and coal generators to cleaner natural gas. Consequently, our electric prices became increasingly dependent on natural gas price and availability. We created this large demand but did not take the important next step to provide additional fuel to supply it. Now we need to finish the work we started.
Two projects have come forward, one to upgrade the capacity of an existing line and another to build a new pipeline from the western part of the state to Dracut and give us direct access to the shale gas reserves in Pennsylvania. We need both of these projects to supply 2 billion cubic feet per day of additional natural gas capacity. This new infrastructure will lower electric rates and heating costs so that New England can shed the poor distinction of having the highest energy costs in the country.
Arguments have been set forth that oppose pipeline expansion on the admirable grounds that we must protect the environment and advance sustainable energy. However, the two are not mutually exclusive. Natural gas will play an important role as a reliable foundation upon which we can continue to increase access to renewable energy sources. Economic concerns are equally as important as environmental concerns. Our businesses are not able to compete with those in different parts of the country and the people of New England can no longer be asked to endure the pain of paying the highest utility rates in the country.
The decisions we make about energy infrastructure have a direct effect on families in our communities and on our climate. As a region, we need to support the construction of both new pipelines to complete the work we started and address this energy cost crisis.