Monthly Archives: April 2017

New natural gas pipeline proposed between Easthampton and Holyoke

Two regional energy companies, Holyoke Gas & Electric and Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, are nearing an agreement to lift the moratorium on the development of a new pipeline that will improve service to Holyoke, Northampton and Easthampton residents.

Stephen H. Bryant, president of Columbia Gas, announced last week that the companies plan to build a new pipeline from Easthampton to Holyoke to bypass the Northampton lateral pipeline, according to MassLive. Such an agreement would allow Columbia Gas to feed more natural gas to Holyoke customers and free capacity on the Northampton lateral to meet increasing demands.

For many homes and businesses, natural gas offers a more cost-effective source of energy than traditional propane or coal. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts a 50 percent increase in global natural gas consumption between 2010 and 2035.

“We were concerned that not having the advantage of gas would put our city at a disadvantage for economic growth,” said Easthampton Mayor Karen L. Cadieux. “When they lift the moratorium, new businesses and residents will be allowed to choose gas as an option for their business or homes.”

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz also says the moratorium has affected the development of two housing projects on Pleasant Street in Northampton, according to the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

“It’s in the region’s best interest that this important agreement between Columbia and Holyoke Gas & Electric is signed,” Narkewicz told the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

The moratorium, which allows for no new natural gas hookups to homes or businesses in the region, was put in place at end of 2014 when the Northampton lateral reached maximum capacity.

A new pipeline would provide direct service to Holyoke and allow more of Columbia Gas’ natural gas to flow from Southwick to customers in Easthampton and Northampton.

Opponents to the pipeline say the project would prolong the necessary transition away from fossil fuels and increase the harmful drilling practice of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, for natural gas across the country.

» Read the full story

Safety Officials Keeping Eye On Potential Pipeline Protests

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
April 20, 2017

The approval of a natural gas pipeline in Otis State Forest has prompted protests, like this one Wednesday during an announcement by Energy and Environmental Affair Secretary Matthew Beaton in Shelburne Falls.

LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Public safety officials are preparing for the worst-case scenario when it comes to protests surrounding the Tennessee Gas Pipeline expansion

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently granted Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. approval to move ahead with a natural gas pipeline expansion through Otis State Forest. The ruling was issued last week approving the Connecticut expansion, which includes tree cutting and installation of the pipeline through four miles of pipeline through the Otis State Forest.
The project has been one of heated political debate and protests and nationally similar projects have faced massive outrage — most notably the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in North Dakota. There have been incidents of mass arrests and possible sabotage attempts in some of those protests.
Locally, authorities are not quite sure what to expect here when construction starts.
“Otis has been identified by some of the protest groups as one of the four key places in the country. We don’t know what that means on the outset but I just want us to be aware of that should something ramp up,” Lt. Col. Thomas Grady, who sits on the Western Mass Homeland Security Council told local officials Wednesday morning.
“I don’t think anybody should be scared. I just want you to be aware.”
Grady says there are indications that protest groups could bring large numbers of protesters from outside of the area to the site. For that reason, security officials have been meeting to plan out any needed responses to the site.
“There is a lot of planning throughout all four counties in Western Mass. for joint support should we need it. The hope is they will be peaceful protesters,” Grady said.
Grady raised briefed the Central Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee on the situation Wednesday and some of those on the committee could be called on for mutual aid. The committee consists of fire, ambulance, and police officials from the central area but should the Southern Berkshire Regional Emergency Planning Committee need assistance, many of central Berkshire officials could be called on to provide it.
That heads up was delivered at nearly the identical time when U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey released a statement calling for FERC to revoke the pipeline’s authorization.

Sen. Warren and Markey ask FERC to revoke Notice to Proceed for CT Expansion

On April 19, Massachusetts Senators Warren and Markey submitted a letter to FERC, urging them to revoke the Notice to Proceed with Tree Clearing and Construction for the CT Expansion pipeline, citing the unaddressed request for rehearing filed by Sandisfield Taxpayers Oppose the Pipeline (STOP) and FERC’s current lack of a quorum.
Thank you to all who responded to our many requests to contact Warren and Markey on this issue. Your voice is being heard … even if the ask needs to be repeated often.

Residents, businesses, officials decry Eversource rate hike at Department of Public Utilities hearing

By Carrie Saldo
, The Berkshire Eagle

April 10, 2017

PITTSFIELD — Disproportionate. Exorbitant. And greedy. Those were among the words used, again and again, by residents and business owners alike to characterize a proposed rate increase by Eversource. They asked the state to reject its request.

Eversource wants state Department of Public Utilities’ approval to raise its rates by more than $96 million next year and $50 million annually for the next four years, according to the state’s attorney general. If approved, the proposed increase would add $11.64 to the average monthly bill for residential customers who live in the west and $8.45 for those living in the east as of Jan. 1, 2018, according to Eversource.

For Eversource’s commercial and industrial customers, the proposal would increase electricity rates up to 37 percent in Western Massachusetts. The rates for businesses in the east would decrease. Eversource officials have said the proposed increase is needed to offset its operating deficit of nearly $96 million.

The DPU held a public hearing on the proposed increases in Pittsfield Monday night, one of several it is hosting statewide on the issue.

It was standing room only inside the Berkshire Athenaeum auditorium, where about 275 people filled it and an adjacent room. Jane Winn of Pittsfield spoke of the diverse interests of those at the hearing. Head of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, Winn pointed to fellow environmentalists, social justice advocates, business owners, state and local elected leaders and more.

Different though they are, she said they all agree on one thing: “We are all united against this rate hike, please take us into consideration,” she said.

Many who spoke at the hearing said they were skeptical of the company’s reasons for the proposed increase. They also said the increase is unfair to customers here, who on average earn less annually, versus the more affluent eastern part of the state.

“We are smaller, we are older, we are sicker and we are poorer,” State Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli said. “Those are four facts that we cannot dispute about Berkshire County.” Electricity rates for commercial and industrial customers in Massachusetts are among highest in the country, behind Alaska, Connecticut and Hawaii.

The proposed increase would impact the bottom line of commercial customers from $41,000 to over $1 million, according to testimony given to the DPU Monday. Pittsfield Mayor Linda M. Tyer said the city’s bill would increase $1.3 million.

“This will undermine growth, threaten job security, and jeopardize the economic prosperity of every citizen,” she said.

Brendan Ronayne, senior finance manager for crane currency, said it is in the middle of a five-year, fixed-rate contract with the United States government to make its currency paper. He said it anticipates paying $550,000 more to Eversource while the electric company would receive “excessive” returns.

Pat Begrowicz, owner of Onyx Specialty paper in Lee, stressed the disproportionate nature of Eversource’s proposed increase.

She said the company would generate $2.2 million from the 18 largest ratepayers in Western Mass. Meanwhile, 112 similar companies in the east will see their rates decline.
“This exacerbates the divide between east and west,” she said.

» Read the whole article

» Eversource’s Order of Notice, DPU Docket 17-05
» DPU Notice of Hearings and how to file comments (May 31 deadline)

Western Mass pipeline fighters win legal battle over Clean Water Act

Otis State Forest Entrance
State agencies have the right to hear Clean Water Act challenges related to natural gas pipelines, the First Circuit ruled on March 15, 2017. (Mary Serreze photo)
by Mary Serreze, Special to The Springfield Republican
March 20, 2017

BOSTON — Western Massachusetts residents fighting the Connecticut Expansion pipeline won a legal battle last week when a federal appeals court agreed that Clean Water Act challenges under the U.S. Natural Gas Act should be heard by the states, and not by a federal court.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on March 15 that it has no jurisdiction to hear a Section 401 Water Quality Certification appeal related to the 14-mile, three-state project proposed by Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., a Kinder Morgan subsidiary.

The judgment affirms the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s right to conduct its own permitting process — from beginning to end — when it comes to applications from gas pipeline firms to alter streams, ponds, and other water resources under its jurisdiction.

The ruling came as the result of a legal action by members of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, or BEAT.

“Although we are disappointed with the Court’s decision, we are confident that we will successfully complete the permit processes, and look forward to executing on this project to increase deliveries of clean, domestic natural gas for New England consumers,” said a Kinder Morgan spokesman.

Tennessee had argued that such challenges should be heard by the First Circuit, and asserted that letting the state handle the appeals process could lead to a lengthy delay.

Tennessee gained a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission certificate for the project in March and had hoped to have the pipeline up and running by November 2016.

Tennessee first filed for a required water quality certification on June 30, 2015. MassDEP issued a conditional certificate one year later, and pipeline opponents quickly filed an appeal. That appeal is pending, and MassDEP says it will issue a ruling by April 3.

» Read full article

Eversource seeks higher fees on customers with solar

Environmental group raises concerns about proposed demand charge

Eversource is proposing special charges for customers with solar installations to make sure they pay their share of the cost of operating the power grid.

The proposed charges are contained in Eversource’s rate filing, which is under review at the state Department of Public Utilities. The utility says the charges are needed because many solar customers produce more power than they use, which allows them to escape paying their share of the power grid’s fixed costs.

The proposed new charges for homeowners with solar installations coincide with a push by the Baker administration to cut in half the subsidies paid by electric ratepayers to solar developers. The overall cost of solar incentives paid by ratepayers through their electric bills has been running at $400 to $500 million a year (or 40 to 50 cents a kilowatt hour), and the new plan is expected to cut that in half, Baker administration officials said. The new plan is intended to spur the development of the next 1,600 megawatts of solar capacity.

Reducing the size of solar incentives and assessing higher charges on customers with solar installations are policies that have been high priorities of Massachusetts utilities. The utilities say they are merely trying to keep electric bills reasonable and fairly distribute costs among customers. But environmental advocates have suggested that solar power is a long-term threat to companies like Eversource, which rely on customers who want electricity delivered to their homes rather than customers who produce their own power.

Bills for electricity typically have two types of charges – a fixed monthly customer charge that recovers the cost of connecting a home to the grid and per-kilowatt-hour charges for everything else. Homeowners with solar installations on their roofs don’t fit neatly into this billing system because they produce much of their own electricity and receive net metering credits when they sell electricity into the grid. The credits are valued at the retail price of electricity, so homeowners can use the credits to offset the cost of electricity being drawn from the grid when the sun isn’t shining.

» Read full article