Watchdog: States too cozy with gas companies
A regional environmental watchdog group has released a set of documents it says details a series of closed-door meetings and memos revealing close involvement by electric and gas utilities in developing a plan by the six New England governors to finance gas pipelines and electric transmission lines with funding from residents and businesses.
Conservation Law Foundation’s report, released Monday, criticizes the process by which the states and the New England States Committee on Electricity had an essentially “closed-door process” with utility executives and ISO-New England, the region’s electricity systems operator, that it says has failed to fully examine the environmental and economic ramifications of building an energy infrastructure that includes a proposed Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. project through Franklin County on its way to Dracut.
“NESCOE and state representatives have been and are currently working out many of the most important details of the (regional energy) plan in private discussions with gas pipeline companies and the gas and electric utilities that would earn billions from the plan,” CLF says in its presentation. “The states are using talking points directly from industry and allowing electric and gas utilities to help define their roles as middlemen who stand to profit from the plan.”
All of the New England governors have endorsed this plan.
NESCOE, which lists on its website a Longmeadow telephone number that was not accepting phone calls, could not be reached for comment by deadline. The organization, which CLF said along with state officials in Massachusetts and Connecticut refused to provide any documents, lists Massachusetts Public Utilities Chairwoman Ann Berwick as its president.
Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs spokeswoman Krista Selmi said in a written response to the report, “The New England states are currently in a discovery and information-gathering phase. We have not given support to any proposed project, nor are we operating behind closed doors. We have provided updates and are in communication with all NEPOOL members, including CLF, on a consistent basis. All stakeholders will continue to have ample opportunity to provide input as the process continues.”
But the nonprofit environmental organization said in its briefing, “What we have learned to date has confirmed that the governors’ initiative is premised on extensive influence, behind closed doors, from pipeline and other energy companies that stand to profit from the governors’ plan to provide billions of dollars of customer money to the region’s largest and most influential gas and electricity providers.”
CLF said the regional organization “has, even this spring, engaged the gas industry and utilities in an ongoing series of private meetings and phone calls to work out the details of its plan, even including how to head off legal challenges and guard against those very same companies’ conflicts of interest as their affiliates vie for the billion-dollar deals the initiative may offer.”
The proposed plan calls for NESCOE to call on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to change its tariff structure to allow electricity customers to be charged for new pipelines and transmission lines, according to CLF Staff Attorney Christophe Courchesne. He added that a “linchpin of the plan” is a Clean Energy Resources bill now pending in the Massachusetts Legislature to authorize large-scale purchase of Canadian hydropower as a first step in seeking proposals to upgrade transmission lines in the state.
Courchesne said Monday’s release was its first of NESCOE documents it has been seeking since March. It included 31 documents, most of which came from the states of New Hampshire and Maine.
“I am less worried about the Canadians’ strategy and more suggesting that deal strategy be formulated behind closed doors,” a NESCOE staff member says in an August 2013 memo to Maine Public Utilities Commission Chairman Thomas L. Welch “The court of public opinion can be fickle and recalcitrant.”
But CLF, which has been pressing for NESCOE to consider the region’s commitment to renewable energy and to battling greenhouse gas emissions, says, “The most alarming thing about the documents CLF has reviewed to date may be what they do not contain. NESCOE and the states have undertaken virtually no rigorous analytical work evaluating the many less costly alternatives to pursuing the governors’ initiative as currently conceived and their potential net benefits for the region.”
Among those alternatives it listed are gas-electric market reforms, increased energy efficiency in electricity and natural-gas systems, increased use of existing gas pipelines and transmission ties and deployment of additional renewable resources along with “strategic use” of liquefied natural gas winter constraints of natural gas.
The quasi-governmental panel’s analysis of building a new gas pipeline across the region, CLF said, ignores such a project’s implications for meeting the region’s climate goals.
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You can reach Richie Davis at: email@example.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269