Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sentinel Editorial

NED pipeline is not needed here now

 One of the largest proposed energy projects in this region’s history, the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline would transmit 1.2 dekatherms per day of natural gas from shale gas fields in northern Pennsylvania to Dracut, Mass. Of the project’s 419 miles, 72 would traverse 19 New Hampshire communities, among them Fitzwilliam, Richmond, Rindge, Troy and Winchester.

Some of the opposition to the pipeline is ideological. Environmentalists oppose the use, generally, of fossil fuels and/or the process of fracking, by which the shale gas is obtained. Some also question the potential use of eminent domain to pry land from reluctant property owners along the path, a measure allowed under federal law in siting pipelines. And some say a community should have the power to deny such a large-scale project.
There are issues any large pipeline would raise, regarding wetlands, water and air quality, emergency response, noise and health issues, construction and disruption. There are property issues — not only how much property owners along the path would be paid under eminent domain, but also the effect having a 30-inch gas pipeline running through town would have on nearby property values. There is the very real prospect that some area residents could see the investment they’ve made in their homes and land ruined by this project, with no recourse.
There is also opposition to the company involved. The Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. is a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, a Texas energy giant. There are critics of Kinder Morgan who point to the company’s safety record and question whether this pipeline would pose a danger. There is also a question of Kinder Morgan’s financial health. Investors’ website The Motley Fool counted it among the 10 worst-performing S&P 500 stocks of 2015 and in early December, Moody’s downgraded Kinder Morgan’s risk, forcing the company to reduce a planned dividend by 75 percent.
And there are questions specific to this plan, such as efforts to make New England electric ratepayers foot the bill for the $5 billion project. The company has lobbied each of the states within the ISO-New England power grid to argue that ratepayers will benefit and, therefore, should ensure construction. According to the Conservation Law Foundation, which has filed to intervene in the regulatory process in opposition to the project, this is key to gaining approval, because Kinder Morgan so far hasn’t found enough takers to demonstrate demand for this large a project. Instead, it aims to have the New England states guarantee the risk with the hope of lowering prices, something the CLF argues is illegal under the Federal Power Act.
As the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which will approve or deny the pipeline, settles in to consider it, it will balance all of those negatives — certain or potential — against the need for more energy in the region.
That’s the entire equation. Picture a balancing scale with many stones weighing down one pan, and one big rock — the demand for gas — sitting in the other. Thus, the big question is solely this: How much is this gas needed in New England?
The answer, at this time, appears to be not enough to counter the negative effects of the project.
Kinder Morgan and business interests have made the case the gas is needed here for energy reliability, particularly during those winter periods when heating homes and power-grid needs collide.
In early 2013, there was a spike in energy prices when electricity providers were caught short of power during a cold snap. Essentially, home heating companies have first dibs on the region’s natural gas supply. When there’s a cold snap, that demand rises, and the gas available for power generation drops. In 2013, power companies didn’t have adequate backup plans in place to deal with this, and briefly had to buy energy on the spot market, causing the price spike.
According to a recent study commissioned by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, rules are now in place that will force providers to the regional grid to have backup sources of energy in such cases, so they won’t be at the mercy of the spot market. Further, the report says, energy-efficiency gains in recent years have stabilized the region’s energy demands, so the situation won’t worsen. Overall, the report finds, there should be no need for Kinder Morgan’s gas in the region over the next 15 years.
We agree having more energy available is a good thing, and that the region can’t keep saying “no” to projects based on such not-in-my-backyard arguments as smell or unsightliness if the case for energy need is compelling.
However, there are several other projects underway or proposed that would bring power to the region. Further, during the next 15 years technological advances may make the need for such huge infrastructure projects obsolete. In the meantime, either there is an urgent need for this gas or there is not, and those for and against the pipeline disagree on this most-important point.
We find less reason to question the Bay State’s principal legal agency than anyone else weighing in on the project so far. That office has nothing to gain from either knocking or advancing the project. If the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office report is accurate, the one big rock on the scale — the overriding need for more power — is far smaller than its proponents are claiming.

Based on the arguments made by the parties thus far, the disruptions and downsides far outweigh the benefits.

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