Monthly Archives: October 2017

Boston needs to lead on clean energy

by Zack Wittman for The Boston Globe
October 08, 2017

President Trump’s failure to act on climate change has conferred an enormous responsibility on local governments. They can’t just sweep the streets and pick up the garbage anymore. They’ve got to save the world.

Or at least, do all they can.

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh has begun to carve out a leadership role. Last month, he announced that the city will host an international climate summit in 2018. Now, he should seize an opportunity to do something concrete: steer more of Boston’s enormous resources into clean energy.

State law already requires utilities to buy 12 percent of their power from renewable sources like wind and solar — a figure that increases by one percentage point each year. But a number of cities and towns, including Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville, have gone further than that, rolling local businesses and residents into buying collectives and purchasing a larger amount of clean energy than mandated.

Last week, the Boston City Council authorized the administration to pursue a similar arrangement, bumping up the clean energy buy in the state’s biggest and most powerful city by five percentage points.

“You only have to look at the news every day to understand that climate change is here; it’s vicious, it’s destructive,” said City Council president Michelle Wu, who pushed the idea with Councilor Matt O’Malley. “It’s not enough just to adapt and be resilient, to react after each hurricane or flood or heat wave and marshal relief efforts. We have to change the physical and economic reality.”

Austin Blackmon, the mayor’s energy and environment chief, said the administration is “really excited” to have the authorization in place, calling the buying collective a “very, very powerful tool.”

He sounded some cautionary notes, though. Before moving ahead, he said, the administration needs to make sure that businesses and residents know what they’re getting into, and that the price is right. Those are reasonable concerns, of course. But they shouldn’t obscure the value of the proposition.

In other cities and towns, the cost of going greener has been entirely manageable. Brookline residential rates went up by a few dollars a month. In Cambridge and Somerville, they dropped slightly. A preliminary estimate from the city of Boston suggests bills could increase by $1 per month.

Wu says she doesn’t think the price will go up that much, if at all. And businesses and residents will be able to opt out, anyhow, and return to basic service if they choose. But even if many customers wind up with a modest increase, it’s a small price to pay. Fighting climate change is going to require some sacrifices, and this is a relatively painless one.

There are lots of reasons for Boston to lead the way with this sort of program. One, of course, is that the city sits on the water and is sure to feel the effects of climate change for years to come. But that’s not all.
Boston is an important city. It’s the largest in New England. It’s filled with top-notch scientists and big thinkers, and its citizens increasingly feel like citizens of the world. Boston needs to do something.

This is something. Let’s do it.

Natural gas leaks cost Mass. $39M annually

by Zachary Comeau, Worcester Business Journal
October 2, 2017

Natural gas is leaking into the atmosphere from more than 900 locations in Worcester alone, part of a much larger statewide problem costing ratepayers nearly $40 million annually.

Using a 2014 law, state regulators and utility companies are working to cut down on the losses – largely caused by an aging natural gas infrastructure – while new legislation at the State House looks to prohibit utilities from charging customers for the loss of the fossil fuel.

“Finding and fixing that small fraction of big gusher leaks that are grade 3 is in the best interest of everybody,” said Audrey Schulman, president of Cambridge advocacy group Home Energy Efficient Team. “It wastes ratepayers’ money, hurts trees and is an extraordinarily potent greenhouse gas.”
Nationwide, eight to 12 billion cubic feet of natural gas is lost annually, says the U.S. Department of Transportation. This greenhouse gas is 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Leaks are everywhere
Kelley Square in Worcester has three of the city’s 906 natural gas leaks left unrepaired in 2016.
In Worcester, gas is escaping from 906 unrepaired leaks, as of December, according to HEET. Throughout Massachusetts, there are 16,507 unrepaired leaks, including at least one in almost every community with gas lines.

In Worcester, the leaks are throughout the city, including in front of popular restaurant deadhorse hill and four on Water Street (including three right near Kelley Square). Another 260 leaks were reported and repaired last year, but those were the more serious and potentially explosive leaks.

When a leak reaches Grade 2 or 1, it is deemed hazardous and is repaired in short order. Grade 3 leaks, however, can remain unrepaired for years. Utilities weren’t required to report leaks until 2014, but Worcester has leaks dating back to that first year, including one on Duxbury Street and four at the intersection of Hamilton and Plantation streets.

Worcester has the second most unrepaired gas leaks of any Massachusetts community, while Boston took the top mark with 1,392. This is primarily due to the cities’ size and age of gas pipes, according to HEET.

The $39M problem

Natural gas utilities lose somewhere between 0.5 and 2 percent of their supply each year, said Bob Ackley, president of Southborough advocacy group Gas Safety Inc. This problem isn’t entirely from leaky pipes, as the category includes theft, venting, gas used by the company itself, and metering error.

The state Department of Public Utilities allows utilities like Eversource Energy and National Grid to recover the cost of lost gas by factoring it into their supply rates. Their customers then pay those rates on the natural gas they use.

The increase in rates due to LAUF costs ratepayers $38.8 million each year, said State Sen. Jamie Eldrige (D-Marlborough). Eldridge has filed legislation to prohibit utilities from factoring lost into their rates, although the bill has yet to move toward approval.

Separately, a Massachusetts law was passed in 2014 requiring gas companies to submit plans to repair or replace infrastructure to reduce leaks. The law directed DPU to institute regulations to implement a monitoring program.

The regulations stemming from that law are expected to take effect after a Nov. 7 comment deadline to the DPU.

“It’s something we’re watching very closely,” said Michael Durand, Eversource spokesman.

The $65M investment

This year, Eversource is replacing five miles of leak-prone cast iron pipe in Worcester and 40 miles of pipe statewide in favor of more durable plastic pipes to help reduce leaks as part of a $65-million investment.

The company, which has about 3,000 miles of gas mains in the state, plans to increase the miles of aging and leaky pipe replaced each year, Durand said.

Eversource and other gas companies are working closely with organizations like HEET on a plan to identify Level 3 leaks that may be leaking more than originally suspected, Durand said.

These relatively minor Level 3 leaks can still have a devastating impact on the environment, said Ackley, whose organization advocates for safer gas infrastructure. He tests areas for gas leaks and is convinced a large beech tree in the Worcester’s Elm Park is dying due to an identified gas leak.

“The thing is getting smoked,” he said.

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Activists relentless as Tennessee Gas tries to wrap up pipeline work, gas to flow in November

MyKennah (Little Wind) Lott lights sage at the side of the road in the pipeline corridor.

SANDISFIELD — When all else fails, keep bugging the pipeline company, and try a little voodoo.

“I think us just being here is having an effect,” said Steven Botkin, one of around 20 activists in Otis State Forest on Thursday to remind everyone that methane will soon be flowing through this slice of state-owned and protected land.

Indeed, their presence temporarily stopped some work, created a few other hassles, and a touch-and-go moment between a young water protector and a Massachusetts State Police trooper.

But first, an effigy of Kinder Morgan’s executive chairman, Richard Kinder, was assembled on private land at the side of Cold Spring Road. The plan was to burn it, but that didn’t happen — not yet, anyway.

Kinder Morgan, the parent company of Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., is nearly done building about four miles of its tri-state natural gas spur, the Connecticut Expansion Project.

Instead of setting a fire, the water protectors and members of the Sugar Shack Alliance walked up and down the road, at one point trying to stop a large truck, sparking brief tensions between Massachusetts state police troopers and two women.

Everyone simmered down, and headed for their destination, a pipeline construction area on each side of the road, where a long swath of state forest was cleared to make way for this third transmission line.

This section of the 13-mile, $93 million storage loop has been the site of protests and more than 70 arrests since the work began in May. Activists object to the construction of the pipeline on public land and the potential impact on climate change.

They haven’t been quiet.

“Mni wiconi!” shouted the water protectors, who moved to an activist camp in Sutton after spending months at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Mni Wiconi means “water is life” in Lakota.

“Who do you protect?” they shouted, directing it at the troopers, some of whom are on a special company detail for which the Kinder Morgan pays the state. Other troopers are pulled from their standard deployments when needed.

Today they were. And they weren’t quiet either.

“We appreciate your cooperation for letting that truck pass,” said Lt. Jeffrey McDonald, who then began a moment of human-to-human straight talk. He wanted to know if today’s plan included arrests that would require more trooper mobilization. And he stunned the group with his reason why.

“We’ve all got lives,” McDonald told them. “I’ve got little ones at home. I’ve got to get them off the bus. I’m not going to let an 11-year-old wander home alone. I’m asking just for purposes of child care.”

Botkin said that was a great reason not to strike up yet another round of civil disobedience, though none had been planned. Botkin has been arrested here several times since May.

“We’re doing this for your daughter, too,” said MyKennah (Little Wind) Lott, an Arapaho woman who was arrested two weeks ago for trespassing here.

“Believe me,” McDonald said to her, “there are many things about what you’re doing here that are close to my heart as well.”

Then he asked Rema Loeb, 84, if she was OK continuing to walk the road with the others. She held up her small portable stool and nodded.

After a philosophical conversation between McDonald and the group, Lott kneeled in the dirt and lit some sage.

And there were quiet moments, when everyone just looked up at the pipeline corridor. The work is nearing completion, and everyone noticed a large stone wall along the forest that wasn’t there before.

Troy Wall, a spokesman for the Department of Conservation Resources, said DCR officials are having ongoing conversations with company representatives about the project and excess rock dug from the pipeline trench.

“Currently, the agency has expressed interest in retaining some of the rock for use within the forest, such as for the creation of wildlife habitat,” Wall wrote in an email. “Rock determined to be excess will be removed from the forest by the contractor.”

Kinder Morgan spokesman David Conover said that unless private or state landowners want to keep the rock, it will be hauled out by the company.

Documents in the company’s environmental plan say Tennessee Gas will restore the landscape to its original condition as much as possible. Conover said restoration is underway.

He said the six-month project would be completed on schedule, with gas flowing sometime in November.

But until then, come here any day and you might hear shouts of mni wiconi echo through the forest and across Lower Spectacle Pond, and see a lineup of state police troopers, ready with handcuffs, or friendly conversation.

Reach staff writer Heather Bellow at 413-329-6871.

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