×

Foes say pipeline battle not over

State sovereignty, policy, ratepayer liability on table

  • Will Elwell of Ashfield speaks to people gathered to celebrate the halting of the pipeline project at the cabin placed in its proposed path.

  • Altered signs in Montague Center. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz



For the Bulletin
Thursday, April 28, 2016

Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. announced plans last week to suspend its 416-mile pipeline project, a move that surprised and pleased opponents who for months have built a cascading opposition to the natural gas pipeline.

But even as they celebrated the halting of the Northeast Energy Direct project by TGP parent Kinder Morgan, opponents were also trying to make sure “final nails in the coffin” were in place. They also were looking ahead to what comes next in the battle not only against the controversial pipeline itself, but against the potential for similar projects in the future.

“It makes sense to be proactive,” said Kathryn Eiseman, director of Massachusetts PipeLine Awareness Network (PLAN) and president of Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast Inc.

Kinder Morgan put the project on hold because it didn’t have enough commitments from prospective customers.

Regardless of the fate of the NED project, Eiseman and others point to underlying legal questions about whether the state Constitution trumps Federal Energy Regulatory Commission pipeline approvals, whether the state should require electricity consumers to pay for pipeline development and about what kind of clean energy course the state wants to chart for itself.

Eiseman wrote last week to the state Department of Public Utilities to request “immediate denial” of TGP’s three requests for survey access to land along the project’s route in light of the company’s announcement it would suspend “further work and expenditures” on NED. Kinder Morgan stated that “there are currently neither sufficient volumes, nor a reasonable expectation of securing them, to proceed with the project as it is currently configured.”

Eiseman said she would like to see all applications and petitions at the federal and state levels “withdrawn and “rendered null and void.”

The PLAN organizations still have their work cut out for them, Eiseman said, work that will affect people elsewhere in Massachusetts, as well as in New York, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and elsewhere.

“We built on the work that was done in New York” she said, citing other projects such as the Algonquin Incremental Market project, which critics note would run within a few hundred feet of the Indian Point nuclear plant in New York. “Each project has a new layer of opposition to it.”

On Monday, Kinder Morgan filed notice with FERC that the project is on hold, but stopped short of withdrawing its formal application.

But Boston attorney Richard Kanoff, who has been representing the town of Montague on a pipeline petition before the DPU, as well as other actions to halt the project, said, “FERC is definitely one of the elephants in the room with respect to this project.” Kanoff said he would expect the company to file for a withdrawal at the federal level as well as to terminate all cases before the state DPU.

Kanoff said Kinder Morgan and its investors “caught up with the realities” that there was no need in the market for its project, given the alternatives, “and they pulled the plug.”

Rosemary Wessel of No Fracked Gas in Mass. said, “When I first heard about plans to suspend the project, it took my breath away,” but she still harbors fears that Kinder Morgan, “which has been so devious … may be planning a bait-and-switch.”

No Fracked Gas in Mass. will remain involved in TGP’s Connecticut Expansion Project, on which the company still plans to proceed, pending a Berkshire Superior Court decision that’s due any day. The organization, with 700 people on its mailing list, plans to remain in continuing DPU proceedings by Eversource and National Grid on whether to allow tariffs on electricity users to pay for Spectra’s Access Northeast pipeline.

“There’s still plenty of work to be done,” she said.

Rep. Patricia Haddad, D-Somerset, has filed legislation that would codify the same kind of electric ratepayer tariff the DPU has approved to pay for gas pipeline construction. The bill would be included in a House energy reform package that many, like Wessel, say needs to emphasize a continued state commitment to renewable energy sources and energy efficiency.

Rep, Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, has called on House leadership to reject inclusion of that kind of fossil fuel tariff in an energy reform package.

Meanwhile the Conservation Law Foundation and GDF-Suez are awaiting a May 5 Supreme Judicial Court hearing on an appeal of the DPU’s decision last year to allow tariffs.

While it has been left to pipeline companies to assume the financial risk for building new infrastructure, said CLF spokesman Josh Block, “what they’re trying to do is put consumers’ money on the line for their pipeline, a pipeline that it’s clear is unnecessary for the energy market. That’s why this is so problematic.”

Attorney General Maura Healey, who had commissioned a study to look into the need for new pipeline infrastructure, said in a statement that Kinder Morgan had recognized “the project was too big and too costly for Massachusetts ratepayers. ... I hope this announcement helps refocus and secure our energy future where it needs to be, with investments in clean and cost-effective energy resources.”