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Gas Pipeline

Governors rein back support for energy tariff

Patrick says administration re-evaluating data on New England’s energy needs

A New England consortium of governors and energy executives has indicated it wants to slow a proposal to petition the federal government for utility customer tariffs to finance $5 billion to $10 billion in power projects like natural gas pipelines and transmission lines.

The New England States Committee on Electricity is seeking an extension of New England Power Pool’s schedule for considering a proposal to ask the federal government for new tariffs on electric customers, according to the power pool consortium.

The New England representatives want to “provide Massachusetts state officials time to evaluate options associated with moving forward with other states on regional solutions to the regional energy infrastructure challenges” that it says have “significant reliability and competitive implications” for customers, NEPOOL said on its website.

The delay request by the Committee on Energy, which has been criticized by the Conservation Law Foundation for closed-door meetings between state officials and gas and electric utility representatives, came two days after Gov. Deval Patrick told opponents of a proposed Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. project that would cross nine Franklin County towns that he was “a little skeptical” of the $3 billion to $4 billion project, which could benefit from new tariffs.

Patrick committed to having his administration revisit data contained in a Committee on Energy study that says a new gas pipeline is needed to cover a projected 8,000 megawatt gap in the region’s power supply when coal and nuclear plants are decommissioned in the next several years, according to Kathryn “Katy” Eiseman, one of the anti-pipeline group that met with him. She said the governor agreed to update the Massachusetts portion of the Black & Veatch study to reflect a low-energy strategy, and that he has not committed to supporting a new tariff, saying that it is still being worked out by the regional Committee on Energy.

“For months now, CLF has been calling upon NESCOE and the New England governors to bring these flawed proposals and the reasoning behind them out into the open,” wrote CLF Staff Attorney Shanna Cleveland last week. “Until now, the formulation of and negotiations around these proposals have been conducted almost completely behind closed doors. With this delay, NESCOE and the officials who direct its actions have a real opportunity to address procedural and substantive concerns … by embracing a transparent, open process that includes a meaningful assessment of alternatives, including: efficiency, better utilization of existing infrastructure and more renewable distributed generation.”

At a Franklin Regional Planning Board meeting on the proposed TGP project, company representatives were asked whether the need for new tariffs to pay for the proposed pipeline indicated insufficient market demand for it. Curtis Cole, marketing manager for TGP parent Kinder Morgan, deferred the question to the Independent System Operator for the region, but said, “Studies have shown that by adding this type of capacity, not only does the price come down, but the volatility comes down.”

(Editor's Note: Some information in this story has changed from an earlier edition)

“Studies have shown that by adding this type of capacity, not only does the price come down, but the volatility comes down.” As another comment so aptly points out, the volatility assessment is based on a self-interest perspective that would do much more harm than good to our environment. Plus, it comes with a price-tag that would add more financial burdens on rate payers.

The volatility is caused by gas investment market manipulations. It has escaped no one's attention that the 20% of gas that Massachusetts already buys doesn't arrive: because pipelines leak. It has also escaped no one's attention that gas investment interests lobbied hard at the statehouse and succeeded in getting a mighty protracted period of decades in which to fix these leaks, that endanger everyone. This is essentially worthless. Don't expect any of that to happen soon. Any break in gas volatility will be short lived. 4-5, and some say, six BILLION dollars on electricity ratepayers backs, on top of the burden of the 22Billion we are still paying on "The Big Dig". This is merely another wealth transfer from Massachusetts' families and small businesses to the obscenely wealthy .01%. This gas is headed to export, and the "volatility" and "crisis" are fueled by gas investment interests, and "surprise" can only by remedied by a giant, overbuilt pipeline? This is a case where "p--ing on our collective leg and telling us it's raining" seems an apt analogy. Kinder Morgan is an investment company, whose primary concern is shareholder dividends, and they will make money whether this benefits our state or not. Looking at what occurs, it is clearly gas investment market manipulations that are the problem: a very deliberate problem. "Studies"? no. hyperbole. We subsidize the gas investment industry to the tune of 41 Billion dollars a year: they have tax deferments that stretch indefinitely, and are massively exempt from federal law or much genuine oversight whatsoever. We have paid this massive subsidy for years, just like all other Americans, and in return, gas investment interests have gouged this region. Now they want a path to take gas that we have subsidized to sell abroad for private profit. A League of women voter's study found that with exports, recoverable unconventional gas could be exhausted within seven years. This doesn't sound like much of an investment for us.

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