Pipeline Proposal Moves Ahead In 2015 As Opposition Grows
Throughout 2015, one story that has been consistent in the WAMC listening area and is likely to be around for the next year or more is the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline. In the latest in our series reviewing the biggest stories of the year, WAMC takes a look back at the project and its growing opposition.Texas-based energy giant Kinder Morgan filed its formal application for the 400-plus mile natural gas pipeline with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in November following a year of public hearings and meetings throughout New York and New England.
“We’ve been in a pre-filing process for the last year having open houses and scoping meetings,” said Kinder Morgan's vice president of public affairs Allen Fore. “FERC’s been taking public comment on the project for several months. When we filed our application that began a new formal review process with FERC for the certificate of public convenience and necessity.”
Fore has been the company’s spokesperson for the Northeast Energy Direct project. As proposed, the 30-inch pipe could carry 1.3 billion cubic feet of fracked gas from Pennsylvania per day.
At the end of 2014, Kinder Morgan moved the pipeline route north, sparing communities like Lenox and Pittsfield in the middle of Berkshire County following consistent protests in those areas. Towns in the northern part of the county are still in its path, which goes into New Hampshire before ending in eastern Massachusetts. Opposition has continued and even swelled in places like Windsor, which under current plans would be the site of a 41,000 horsepower compressor station.
“I think they saw Windsor as an easy mark,” said Jan Bradley. “We’re a rural community. We’re not a wealthy town. They were looking for a spot to hide a compressor station and they think that Windsor is that spot.”
Bradley was among those protesting the compression station during a company outreach meeting in Windsor in October. She was joined by Richard Wagner.
“We have a right to defend our freedoms and our community,” Wagner said. “There’s no denying that the money is powerful, but each one of us joining arms and agreeing that this is not for our benefit, we have a right to protest it. Rather than just sit and say ‘It’s happening, let it happen.’ This is ridiculous. We are not going to sit still.”
Nine compressor stations are being proposed, including another in Rensselaer County, where local opposition is also fierce.
While resistance to the $5 billion project started at the local level and spread upward, a major strike against the proposal came in November when a report commissioned by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey found that there is no need for increased gas capacity to meet the state’s electric reliability needs over the next 15 years. Healey’s office sent the report to FERC. The Democrat says major investments should be made in renewable, clean energy sources rather than gas.
“These are economic opportunities for our state, but they’re also the best way to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gases, which is something that is absolutely important,” Healey said.
In December, Massachusetts Republican Governor Charlie Baker said FERC’s decision will be based on whether alternatives can meet the region’s energy needs. He points out that with the retirement of nuclear power plants, New England is losing about 10,000 megawatts of base-load energy over the next five years.
“If people want to engage this process in a constructive way that will get the attention of the federal government then we as a region have to be able to answer the question of ‘What’s the alternative?’” Baker said. “I’m a big fan of expanding along existing routes, Canadian hydro and incorporating other measures including efficiency, solar and wind into that picture. But, FERC is going to make this decision based on one criteria that’s fundamental to them which is whether or not this region has the capacity to meet the critical energy needs of the region. And that’s going to be up to the decisions we make with respect to all these other alternatives.”
Kinder Morgan and its subsidiary Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. have cited increasing energy prices caused by a bottleneck in the Northeast gas distribution system as the need for the project. They’ve called the study commissioned by Healey’s office “seriously flawed.” In response, the company says the region's gas utilities will need 5 billion cubic feet of additional pipeline capacity by 2018, compared to the current capacity of roughly 4 billion cubic feet of gas per day. Fore has said the effort will create 3,000 construction jobs, adding that areas that house a compressor station usually see $1 million in tax revenue. FERC’s review is expected to take about a year with the in-service date slated for late 2018.
Click here for WAMC’s continuing coverage of the Northeast Energy Direct project.