Youngblood/My Turn: An energy education

At the Boston Common on July 30, anti-pipeline rallyers enthusiastically agreed that we must all “Say Yes: to a Fix-It-First pipeline policy”; to new storage tanks (not pipelines across green fields) for meeting peak energy demands; to jobs and job training for the future; to a level-playing field for gas pricing; and to increased investments, maybe even tariffs, for renewable energy and energy-efficiency technologies.

Because Massachusetts citizens and ratepayers should have an option to say “yes” to some version of a multi-pronged clean-energy solution, the bandwagon that I have not jumped on is the one that Kinder Morgan is driving across our state, lobbying around Washington D.C., and shipping oversees. The Northeast Energy Direct project’s real and imminent threat to pristine landscapes and beloved family farms forced me, and many others, to learn more about energy.

Is this pipeline really a necessity? Would the pipeline really serve the public interest? Is this pipeline really what businesses need? Sifting facts from exaggerated claims, it becomes clear that more analysis is needed to fully answer these questions.

I applaud Gov. Deval Patrick for agreeing to evaluate infrastructure costs and requirements needed to implement a “Low Demand Scenario” energy policy that is consistent with Massachusetts’ laudable accomplishments in efficiency improvements and renewables. Wars need not be fought over the sun’s rays and not many will oppose the swallowing of rooftops and parking lots for solar and wind power installations. Let’s have a chance to consider the cost of meeting our energy needs while at the same time keeping our forests as forests.

Meanwhile, aging and leaking pipelines are serious problems that merit more attention. In April 2014, at a U.S. Energy Department public meeting in Hartford, panelist Rick Terven, of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States, Canada and Australia, emphasized the value of the jobs that would be created if New England would address its urgent need to upgrade the infrastructure we have in place now. How many more dekatherms could Berkshire Gas deliver if leaks were repaired? Hopefully, this is one of the questions the Low Demand Scenario analysis will answer.

Protecting prior investments in land conservation strengthens the state’s economy. According to the September 2013 report by the Trust for Public Land titled, The Return on Investment in Parks and Open Space in Massachusetts, parks and open space contribute to the high quality of life in Massachusetts. According to Forbes and CNBC, quality of life is the commonwealth’s number one asset for business … the availability of outdoor activities is the second most important factor for recent college graduates deciding whether to stay in the state or move elsewhere. Parks also boost property values and increase municipal revenues.

For 20 years, I have helped landowners in Franklin and Worcester counties permanently protect their land. Meeting the personal goals of families and individuals that want to keep their land the way it is provides benefits to the public at the same time. Undeveloped land is the source of the clean air and water and fresh food that we need to meet our most basic human needs. We cannot afford to lose critical natural resources to rash proposals that take the easiest path across the most rural part of our commonwealth.

Massachusetts may be leading the country in energy efficiency, but we are all going to have to do more. I agree with Isaac Mass (Recorder Aug. 27) that a person doesn’t have to be altruistic to not waste energy, it’s smart and its practical — and, yes, it saves money, especially if we pay the true costs of our energy use, including its development, transmission and resulting pollution.

Researchers at the Conservation Law Foundation in Boston say that New England can meet its energy needs without the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline and without the Northern Pass transmission line even taking into consideration the closing of Vermont Yankee and the outdated oil-fired plants. I have confidence in their research and I encourage every reader to spend time at clf.org digging into the facts presented there. For one thing, we should encourage the other New England states to improve their energy-efficiency scores before we let a shale gas pipeline perforate our large forest blocks that have been gradually conserved with 100 years of effort.

Fracked natural gas has quickly become a commodity available in previously unimagined quantities. International markets already pay much higher prices for natural gas than we pay in Massachusetts. Ultimately, it is market forces vastly larger than this single pipeline that will influence what we will have to pay. Instead, let’s say “yes” to supporting our local economy by buying into distributed, community-scale energy generation that local decision makers have more control of. And let’s say “yes” to working together and doing all that we can to make sure regulators at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission do not approve this pipeline hook, line and sinker even while increasing numbers of landowners, residents, towns and political representatives are saying stop the pipeline.

Leigh Youngblood is the executive director of Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, based in Athol. She resides in Warwick.

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