Faced with some of the highest energy prices in the country, Massachusetts utilities regulators are considering a controversial proposal that would allow electric companies to sign contracts subsidizing pipeline construction and pass the cost onto ratepayers.

Electric companies cannot currently charge customers to recover the cost of contracts with natural gas pipelines, giving them little incentive to sign onto the projects. But if the Department of Public Utilities approves the proposal, it would pave the way for electric utilities to purchase capacity on pipelines, creating a coveted new group of partners for companies like Kinder Morgan and Spectra Energy, both of which need to secure buyers in order to build pipelines in the state.

The DPU's review of the proposal began April 27 and remains in its infancy. But some consumer advocacy and environmental groups, such as the Conservation Law Foundation, are expressing concern.