O'Connor has been a major architect of the state's new energy deregulation law, which includes a requirement that all electricity distributors in the state buy a percentage of their energy from a newly developed renewable source, beginning with 1% in 2003. That percentage will increase gradually over the decade, topping out at 4% by 2009 (box).
Currently, the state gets about 13% of its energy from renewable sources -- almost all of it hydroelectric power. Although newly developed sources of hydro will be eligible, O'Connor says that most available sites have long since been developed and the region's hydro power is now mainly bought from Canada. Solar power sources are also eligible, but are not expected to be economically viable.
"Wind power has the greatest potential to meet these renewable energy requirements. We want to get the word out that we are a place that's friendly to renewable energy. We have some very real public policy reasons for wanting renewable energy. There are permanent policy commitments. They're not fly by night. It's a good place to invest. And it's going to be even better. We have high demand -- and lots of desire," says O'Connor. As energy commissioner he reports directly to the governor, currently Republican Jane Swift.
"We would be delighted if we created an environment that is hospitable to renewable energy and attracted dollars from Japan and Canada. After importing other countries' oil and gas and hydro-electric for decades, it would be great to get some of that money back," O'Connor says. He has high hopes that the state Renewables Portfolio Standard will create the right conditions for green power generation. "In New England, and in Massachusetts in particular, there's clearly going to be a premium paid because distributors have to buy the stuff. To my mind, this is a way of guaranteeing there's money to be made here."
Massachusetts is one of six New England states that belong to one regional power grid. Two other states in the grid -- Connecticut and Maine -- also have pro-renewables regulations. Since theses three states are by far the largest in both population and land area on the grid, observers believe the new regulations will be a "green power" boon for the region as a whole.
New England's current electricity mix includes about 10% from oil, 9% from coal, and 31% from nuclear with the remainder from gas. By the decade's end, planners hope to have phased out completely the region's dependence on oil-generated electricity and to have reduced substantially the reliance on nuclear and coal -- generation that will be made up for by the increased availability of wind power and other green energy sources, planners hope.