Energy Company Lays Out Pipeline Plans, Law Foundation Explains Approval Process
At an informational meeting Thursday night in Pittsfield, representatives from Kinder Morgan laid out plans to build a roughly 400-mile natural gas pipeline running from Pennsylvania through New York to eastern Massachusetts. And in response to growing concerns, the Conservation Law Foundation put Berkshire County representatives through a crash course on the permitting process.Allen Fore, vice president of public affairs for Kinder Morgan, says the presentation to the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and about 50 audience members at Berkshire Community College was the 33rd town hall-style meeting the company has attended in the past six months. Using a power-point presentation full of graphs, maps and newspaper articles, Fore outlined the reasoning for the pipeline. He cited figures from ISO-New England showing 52 percent of New England’s electricity is produced by natural gas. He added as more coal power plants are retired and with current pipelines running full, customers in those six states paid $3 billion more this past winter because of shortages.
“It’s really not Kinder Morgan or Tennessee Gas saying it, it’s the policymakers saying it,” Fore said. “It’s ISO. It’s NESCO. It’s those who are monitoring and managing the grid and the network of energy in the region that are saying that there’s a crisis. There’s an urgent need for additional energy infrastructure. The governors collectively have cited a signification need for energy efficiency, but also natural gas pipeline infrastructure specifically to address the long-term needs of the region.”
So far, 12 distribution companies like Berkshire Gas and National Grid have signed contracts to be served by Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct Project, a cost that could be passed on to ratepayers.
“They’re saying in the long-term that they need additional natural gas supply for the region,” Fore said. “That’s a big indicator that a pipeline is needed for us. Commercial side, that’s very important. We’re continuing to pursue additional customers and we anticipate signing many of those here in the near future.”
Kinder Morgan began the formal permitting process for the $4.5 billion project on September 15, applying for pre-filing procedures with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
One concern with the project is the proposed route for the underground 36-inch pipe and aboveground stations. The current route goes through eight Berkshire County towns on its way to Dracut side-by-side existing pipeline routes, but also creating new paths through areas like Kennedy Park in Lenox. Fore explains environmental, cultural, and historical studies, alternative routes as well as public hearings are part of the FERC process.
“We’re continuing to refine this route,” Fore said. “We’ve probably made 100 changes in this route since we announced it as a proposed route several months ago. I fully expect we’ll probably 100 or more additional changes. Some may be very significant changes and some may be very small. We’ve changed 100 feet to accommodate for a landowner concern to 10 miles to accommodate or address concerns from others.”
Shanna Cleveland, a senior attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, explained the permitting process during the second half of the roughly two-hour meeting. Before the anticipated FERC approval in November 2016, individuals, groups and municipalities can submit comments and file for intervener status, allowing for appeals and re-hearings. While the project is subject to local and state permitting, as Cleveland points out, the decision comes down to the five-member FERC panel appointed by the president.
“The certificate of public need is important here because it does confer the power of eminent domain,” Cleveland said. “Once that certificate of public need has been issued then you are really in the area where the pipeline company can come out onto land, can take that land if there is not a deal negotiated and then would negotiate essentially a fair-market value to pay for any land that was taken under the process of eminent domain.”
Stephen Wicks was among hundreds who traveled along the proposed route this summer delivering a petition to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick in Boston requesting he retreat on his support for a tax that would help fund the project. On that day, July 30th, Massachusetts’ U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey came out in opposition to the pipeline as proposed. Wicks says those voicing their opposition are having an impact.
“If we could get the entire U.S. delegation in opposition to the pipeline it would be very hard I think for FERC to override the state,” said Wicks.
With contracts in hand and having put several million dollars into the project, Fore says Kinder Morgan will go forward with the pipeline regardless of that tax now that it has applied with FERC.
“We do have a very good record and I am not aware of a project that after we start the process that we have pulled out of, unless there’s a commercial change of some sort, or that FERC has rejected,” Fore said. “Because we’re not like every other company. Some companies may go through an application process simply to test the waters. We don’t do that. Once we start this process, we plan to finish the process.”
The project is expected to create 3,000 construction jobs with initial work beginning in spring 2017. Meanwhile, Northeast Utilities and Spectra Energy Corp. have announced a $3 billion project to expand their existing pipelines in Connecticut and eastern Massachusetts.