Just about everyone — from environmentalists to the governor to the guy selling you light bulbs at your local hardware store — is talking about green, renewable sources of power.
That's the goal. But among the big questions is, how much carbon-polluting fossil fuel do we need in the short term to build that bridge to the state's green future?
That question is very much at the heart of a debate about a proposed natural gas pipeline through New England.
After months of widespread community opposition, the company behind it has proposed a new path: It would run from the fracking gas fields of Pennsylvania, into upstate New York, through western Massachusetts, then up and across southern New Hampshire and then south again to a terminal in Dracut, Massachusetts.
The goal is get more gas to the region and and bring down electricity prices, which are expected to spike this winter.
3 Arguments For The Pipeline
The new route will avoid environmentally sensitive places:
Allen Fore: "Part of citing infrastructure for any company is to get public input, and we had 42 public meetings on this project over several months, and part of what we learned from state officials [and] local officials, is, where we could try to avoid areas that are particularly environmentally sensitive to New Hampshire in the sense of ...conservation lands. So, what we've done is, we've adjusted our route to co-locate with an existing transmission line that's a power line — [an] above ground power line — for all of the main line routes in Massachusetts and most of the...main line route — over 90 percent — [is now] in New Hampshire...Addressing the concerns that we've heard is the important step that we're taking now."
New England utilities companies need the gas:
AF: "We've been...transporting natural gas to New England for over 60 years. We're one of the major providers of natural gas to the region. We base our determination of need on customers — those are the utilities that distribute gas to homes and businesses, and they're telling us they do. They're signing up for contracts on our line to reserve space on this line expansion, so that's what we base our potential project on. So, we're trying to develop a project that addresses the needs of the customers, those are the local distribution companies for gas, primarily, in the region."
Natural gas is a "bridge energy":
AF: "[Massachusetts is] a leader in energy conservation but [it's] also, unfortunately, a leader in the highest [natural gas] prices in the country. So, there's an issue here, and it's a public policy issue. So, I think there needs to be a balance. I mean, we're a natural gas transportation company and we call natural gas a bridge energy...How do we get to a renewable future? And certainly, in the short term, there's going to be a need for additional natural gas...what's going to provide for the natural gas needs for New England, for the future? As you transition to renewables you're relying less on fuel oil, less on nuclear, less on coal. Natural gas is picking up most of that slack — renewables are also going up, but natural gas is providing much of the energy supply — not just for heating homes and businesses but for electricity, as power generation is coming from natural gas. Now, natural gas is still a fossil fuel, but it's 50 percent less carbon emissions...We're trying to build a project of size and scope to satisfy not just Massachusetts — remember, this is a New England project. Maine needs gas, New Hampshire needs gas and one of the attractive features of this route adjustment we made is in partnership with Liberty Utilities, which is the natural gas distributor for New Hampshire. We have the opportunity to bring natural gas to communities in New Hampshire that currently don't have gas service and are primarily reliant on fuel oil."
3 Arguments Against The Pipeline
It's not a short-term solution:
Jamie Eldridge: "It's important to keep in mind that short-term is, in my mind, very opposite from a plan to build a $4 billion natural gas pipeline that will be with us for decades. So, I think the bridge analogy is a bit inaccurate and I think that when we're talking about why prices are so high in Massachusetts, a key reason why electricity prices, or natural gas prices now, are so high is that the infrastructure we have now with our currently existing pipelines, or just the delivery of natural gas, is really inefficient, and I put that burden on the utility companies and companies like Kinder Morgan that haven't upgraded their facilities to provide energy on-demand when there's peak demand, such as in the winter. I'd much rather see the companies focus on that than building an entirely new piece of infrastructure which will be paid for by the rate payers throughout Massachusetts."
It could encourage other states and countries to depend on fossil fuels:
JE: "Down the line, could a 'credit-worthy customer' choose to hook up with the expanded natural gas that would come to Massachusetts under the proposed pipeline? That would, in my opinion, increase the use and demand for natural gas and move away from state environmental and alternative energy policies, so I do think that's possible. I've certainly heard it talked about a lot. I'm not certain how likely it is but I think it's possible because very simply, if you build it they will come. The alternative version is investing in energy efficiency, so every single home and building is more energy efficient, investing more in alternative energy."
We can rely on LNG infrastructure in the short-term:
JE: "The short-term solution is we have existing LNG infrastructure in Massachusetts, it's just a question of having the delivery happen on a more dependable basis so that when we can anticipate a very cold winter or variations in energy needs for consumers in Massachusetts, that that energy, whether it's natural gas or other forms of energy, is provided on a more timely basis. I would respectfully say that's the biggest reason why we have spikes in electricity costs and not a lack of natural gas coming to Massachusetts. So, I think that needs to be fixed and that's really something that the burden, again, is on the utility companies and companies like Kinder Morgan."
- "That pipeline expansion project — which is being proposed by the energy company, Kinder Morgan, will cut through much of northern Massachusetts and is not without controversy."
- "Even if we’re spared the frigid temperatures we saw last winter — and, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 'nothing indicates we’ll see a repeat' of the dreaded polar vortex — utilities companies like National Grid are still planing to raise electricity rates for the winter season by 37 percent."
This article was originally published on December 08, 2014.
This segment aired on December 8, 2014.