Columbia Gas extends moratorium for Northampton, Easthampton customers


Staff Writer

Published: 10-16-2019 12:14 AM

NORTHAMPTON — A moratorium on adding new natural gas customers in Northampton and Easthampton will continue indefinitely following a decision by Columbia Gas of Massachusetts to abandon a project aimed at increasing the pipeline capacity for both cities.

The company last week announced that the moratorium for Northampton and Easthampton, which began in 2015 and has since meant new connections to its supply line are not allowed, will be extended due to changes in the planned “Greater Springfield Service Territory Reliability Project” first unveiled in November 2017.

Two years ago, the company pledged that five interrelated projects throughout the region would increase the natural gas supply and put an end to the moratorium in 2020 or 2021. Instead, Columbia Gas has eliminated the “alternate backfeed” project, a 6-mile-long, 12-inch pipe that would have run between Agawam and Holyoke.

At a projected cost of $24 million, that pipeline, serving customers in Holyoke, would have freed up capacity at what is called the Northampton gate station for at least eight to 10 years, allowing Columbia Gas to add to the 13,500 customers it already serves in Easthampton and Northampton through the 20-mile Northampton lateral pipeline. That spur pipeline, which connects to the Tennessee Gas Pipeline, has reached its limits, according to the company.

Columbia Gas President and Chief Operating Officer Mark Kempic said in a statement that the decision to abandon the “alternate backfeed” was made based on review and analysis over the past few months of the cost impact and benefits to customers, and is unrelated to the work moratorium imposed by the state’s Department of Public Utilities on the Columbia Gas system.

“Our determination is that we can accomplish the goals of removing leak-prone pipe in Agawam and West Springfield, as well as enhance operational flexibility, with the four remaining projects,” Kempic said.

Those projects include replacing 8,500 feet of the ConEd transmission line in Springfield, compressor station enhancement in Agawam, a 2-mile pipeline loop in Agawam and a new point of delivery in a non-residential area of Longmeadow.

The company contends that removal of leak-prone pipe, and offering energy-efficiency measures and load management solutions will maintain the safety, reliability and efficiency of its natural gas distribution system for Northampton and Easthampton, along with the rest of its service territory.

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Kempic cited limited new growth potential in Northampton and cost as reasons for the cancellation of this project.

“The costs associated with the alternate backfeed project are not in line with expected project and customer benefits,” he said.

But Kempic also took aim at Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz and the Northampton City Council. The council last October unanimously passed a resolution opposing the expansion of natural gas infrastructure in the area and asked Columbia Gas to provide the city facts and figures that show new infrastructure is needed to meet the city’s demand for gas, to repair its current infrastructure, and to lift its moratorium on new gas service in Northampton where alternatives cannot safely or adequately be utilized.

“More importantly, Mayor Narkewicz and the City Council of Northampton have stated they are not interested in additional gas service to their community,” Kempic said.

Narkewicz didn’t immediately respond Tuesday afternoon to a request for comment on the extension of the moratorium. A message left Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle also was not returned.

A similar moratorium implemented by Berkshire Gas continues to affect Amherst, Hadley and Hatfield, as well as Franklin County towns.

Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman said it is hard to gauge the continued impact the moratorium has had, as the town has still seen significant commercial and residential development, including in its downtown. But not having access to natural gas has likely made projects more expensive, such as at the One East Pleasant mixed-use project, where an underground propane tank was put on site.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at]]>