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Following Pipeline Suspension, Activists Look To Shape MA’s Energy Plan

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Following the suspension of a proposed Northeast natural gas pipeline, environmental activists are shifting their focus to an energy plan being crafted by Massachusetts lawmakers.Some 100 members of the coalition Mass Power Forward are planning to rally at the State House Tuesday ahead of a Senate committee hearing on the state’s clean energy future. The gathering comes less than two weeks after Kinder Morgan announced it was suspending work on its controversial Northeast Energy Direct pipeline. It would have run through eastern New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Katy Eiseman, president of Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast, says the rally is also a celebration.

“It’s partly marking the milestone of a bit of a victory with respect to the NED pipeline,” Eiseman said. “Also, pulling together people who are working in opposition to various gas infrastructure projects and other unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure and working toward sustainable solutions.”

State lawmakers are considering an omnibus energy bill, which Republican Governor Charlie Baker says is more urgent now that the pipeline has been suspended. Tuesday’s hearing is being convened by the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change. Ben Downing, a Democrat from Pittsfield, sits on the committee. He says the pipeline’s suspension doesn’t change the Senate’s focus when it comes to the energy plan.

“I think our focus had also been on how do we come up with a comprehensive energy bill that is consistent with our two major goals, which are tackling climate and trying to find a way to reduce costs,” Downing said. “I think we had always been that if we put forward that plan, FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] would look it and say that there is not the need for a project on Kinder Morgan’s scale or projects of it’s like.”

Mass Power Forward consists of more than 150 environmental, social justice and business groups. It launched in September in recognition of what it calls an important moment in energy decision-making in Massachusetts. Claire Miller is the lead community organizer with Toxics Action Center, a member of Mass Power Forward. She says the group wants the state to adopt plans that support clean, local energy, green jobs and efficiencies.

“We support at least 2,000 megawatt procurement of offshore wind,” Miller said. “It’s one of our biggest untapped resources off the coast of Massachusetts in federal waters. We know that the more wind we capture, the lower the cost. Investing in offshore wind will put us on the right track, create local jobs and use an abundant reliable local resource. We would love to see a bill that would eliminate a cap on having access to the ability to do solar net metering.”

Even though the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline has been suspended, Eiseman says the group continues to focus on issues surrounding any future gas infrastructure.

“There is a concern that there may be provisions that explicitly allow for electric utilities to subscribe for capacity on new pipelines which would ultimately result in the electric ratepayers across the commonwealth and New England being on the hook for billions of dollars in new gas infrastructure,” Eiseman said. “We’re very concerned that might show up in the bill and we would actually like to see an explicit probation of such contracts.”

Governor Baker filed legislation in July requiring Massachusetts’ electric distribution companies to solicit long-term contracts for clean energy generation including hydropower. The legislature is considering the proposal in its omnibus plan. One of the options talked about is importing hydropower from Canada. Miller says Mass Power Forward would rather see local energy resources pursued first.

“Like any energy resource, there are pros and cons,” Miller said. “We’d rather see Massachusetts tap into local offshore wind and local solar [power] before we are committing to such a large importation.”

Tuesday’s State House rally starts at 11:30. The committee hearing begins at 1.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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