Christine Stuart photo
Protesters outside the Convention Center (Christine Stuart photo)

Environmentalists stood Thursday outside the Connecticut Convention Center to protest a long-term energy strategy being discussed at a closed-door meeting between five of the six New England governors.

Inside the convention center, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was joined by Maine Gov. Paul LePage, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin. New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan was unable to attend.

The five emerged from their meeting united in their commitment to collectively and individually as states find ways to expand the natural gas pipeline and access more renewable energy.

They said the high cost of electricity in the region remains a challenge.

At a press conference after the meeting, Malloy said the extra $2.5 billion New England spent this winter on energy represents a crisis that the region has to confront. “We all agree this is a crisis and collective action needs to be taken,” Malloy said.

In January 2014, a group representing the six New England Governors asked ISO New England to approve a tariff on electricity that would help pay for increased natural gas pipeline capacity into New England by the end of 2017. ISO New England, the region’s regulator, went on to ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for approval of the tariff.

Officials said Thursday that they are still pursuing that avenue, but in the meantime they have decided to also seek approval on a state-by-state basis.

Malloy said they are separate political entities tied together by a single purchasing authority so perhaps the better way to go about this is to “work out the things and get authority to do the things together that we would otherwise individually want to do.”

Christine Stuart photo
New England Governor’s including Govs. Dannel P. Malloy, Charlie Baker, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, and Maine Gov. Paul LePage (Christine Stuart photo)

He said it’s not about being for a tariff or against a tariff.

“All of us would like to see us move in a direction of being legally able to coordinate our efforts to a higher degree,” Malloy said. “But that’s a state-by-state issue.”

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said he knows they need to do some of this “stuff regionally in order to be successful with it.”

He said that’s why Massachusetts regulators are going to open up a docket to explore the issues and challenges regarding energy in the region and gas line expansion.

“We’re cognizant and respectful of the processes that have to be undertaken by each one of the states,” Malloy said.

In Connecticut, lawmakers are debating legislation that would allow the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to enter into long-term contracts to expand natural gas pipelines or renewable energy. The bill allows the commissioner to submit the proposal on his own or in coordination with other states in the region.

Whether it’s on a federal level or a regional level, environmental protesters outside the Convention Center on Thursday said the ratepayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill for what they view as a “dirty fuel.”

Jen Siskind, Connecticut coordinator for Food and Water Watch, said they’re seeing an alarming increase in energy infrastructure that “binds us to dirty fuels.”

“We cannot use fracked gas a bridge fuel,” Siskind said. “There’s a reason Gov. Malloy is having a closed-door session. The New England governors are hiding from the press. They’re hiding from the public. They don’t want to be transparent about the fact that the cost of these million-dollar pipelines and infrastructure are going to be pushed onto us, the public, to pay for this build out of fracked gas.”

Environmentalists worry about the chemicals used to extract the natural gas from the shale deposits and the potential for water contamination.

“Those guys care about nothing more than money,” Linda Haley, of Marblehead, Mass., told her fellow environmentalists. “How dare they ask us to subsidize them.”