Opponents of proposed Tennessee Gas Pipeline voice concerns before federal task force

Last modified: Monday, May 12, 2014
The message was clear from the U.S. energy secretary this week: New England faces serious “infrastructure constraints” in meeting the region’s energy needs, leading to prices that are “very volatile and much higher than other parts of the country.”

But while Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz’s call for additional gas pipeline systems and added capacity for transmitting hydroelectricity from Quebec was echoed by state and company energy officials from around the region, it was called into question by three Franklin County residents, as well as the environmental organization Conservation Law Foundation.

Mount Grace Land Trust Executive Director Leigh Youngblood and North Quabbin Energy members Stephen and Janice Kurkoski testified before the U.S. Department of Energy’s Quadrennial Energy Review Task Force in Hartford, Conn., which drew about 150 officials Monday.

“Out there, in much of the country the talk is about the energy revolution, the abundance of energy that we have, the way that we are in fact drawing upon new resources ... promoting renewables, at the same time reducing carbon emissions,” Moniz said. “But yet if we come here, it’s not a discussion of abundance. It’s a discussion of, in particular, infrastructure constraints.”

His comments opened an afternoon of panel discussions that included, among others, Massachusetts Assistant Secretary for Energy Steven Clarke examining regional approaches to solutions.

Clarke, speaking after the session, told The Recorder that adding additional natural gas transmission capability and lines for renewable electricity sources such as hydropower, wind and solar, are needed along with development of renewable sources within Massachusetts. He said they are needed to address four critical issues — reliability of supply, replacing the more than 8,000 megawatts of older electric generating plants that are expected to go offline by 2020, greater energy diversity in a region where natural gas accounts for 40 percent of electric generation, and greater affordability in a region that pays some of the highest electric rates in the country and faces an obligation to cut carbon emissions from 1990 levels at least 20 percent by 2020 and at least 80 percent by 2050.

“In order to reach the 2020 mandated limit, we need new sources of clean energy,” said Clarke, adding that the region’s electricity system operator has forecast increased demand for power over the next 10 years, even though the rate of growth has been falling because of successful conservation initiatives. Some 25 percent of electric generation capacity is scheduled to go offline because of aging.

Opposition voiced

But Youngblood questioned the thrust of the New England governors’ policy to develop new pipelines such as the proposed Tennessee Gas Pipeline, which she contends would jeopardize some of the land conserved by Mount Grace land trust.

The proposal, she said, “to have local ratepayers finance the destruction of conserved and/or intact natural resources that are relied upon for public health for the purpose of transferring outdated fossil fuels — which are unnecessary for meeting an already shrinking regional energy demand and detrimental to a global atmosphere increasingly reactive to greenhouse gases — taxes the public in multiple ways only to funnel the resulting immense private profits to relatively few.”

She added, “In lieu of a new pipeline ... the 2 billion dollar price tag of the Massachusetts section of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline could more prudently be spent installing 4KW rooftop solar systems on 100,000 homes, which would collectively generate 80 million dollars’ worth of electricity annually — without comprising the land or our atmosphere. An alternative infrastructure investment such as this at this scale, 400MW, would provide numerous benefits to the public interest while avoiding both critical losses to one hundred years of prior investments in land conservation and exacerbations of climate volatility being experienced today and projected to worsen.”

Stephen Kurkoski of Warwick — one of the nine towns the 179-mile proposed “Northeast Expansion” pipeline is expected to cross — criticized the momentum for solving “a perceived bottleneck or constraint” of natural gas in the region by building new pipelines that could be better addressed through conservation and more aggressive development of renewable energy sources.

“If you only ask the questions you’re trying to address with supply issues,” he said, they lead to limited solutions about building more pipelines, tearing through forests and protected land in the process.

Kurkoski’s concerns echo those made by the Conservation Law Foundation and other statewide environmental groups such as Better Future Project urging the state to reject new gas pipelines like the Northeast Expansion, which would use hydrofracked natural gas that they claim would dramatically contribute to climate change.

“A sudden influx of tar sands into our state would undermine Gov. Patrick’s own efforts to encourage the use of fuel efficient vehicles, including electric cars,” said Better Future Project’s executive director, Craig Altemose.

Massachusetts and other Northeast states are virtually free of tar sands gas, which causes 17 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than conventionally produced fuels over their entire life cycle, the groups say. But a January 2014 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council highlighted the fact that tar sands could grow to 11 percent of the region’s fuel supply by 2020, and as much as 18 percent if the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline were built.

Meanwhile, Clarke responded to critics’ charges that gas pipelines built through the region could lead to liquefied natural gas terminals that would be used to export the gas, with world prices actually causing energy costs here to climb, especially as the region’s dependence on gas grows.

“None of the New England governors would allow for a pipeline (that) doesn’t achieve the desired effect: to assure reliability in New England and reduce prices in New England as well. It’s an outcome were paying close attention to ... The process to approve an LNG terminal is long and entails a lot of federal review and there are some aspects of the global market that affects the viability of an LNG terminal as well. So we’re not overly concerned about that outcome, for both market reasons and the reason that the governors don’t want that. It is within our control.”