Editorial: Berkshire Gas, decide quickly

  • Berkshire Gas’s service center on Mill Street in Greenfield. file photo/Matt Burkhartt

Published: 10/25/2016 4:45:07 PM

Berkshire Gas Co. is exploring two options for increasing supply and ending its moratorium on new customers in Franklin and Hampshire counties, now that the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline won’t be cutting through the heart of Franklin County.

Berkshire Gas gambled on the new Kinder Morgan pipeline to fuel its growth in the upper Pioneer Valley and didn’t advance study of alternatives until the NED pipeline died under the weight of popular opposition and sagging customer demand.

Now we’ve lost two years — time when economic development has been stifled by lack of the relatively cheap energy source.

The company’s latest filing with the state Department of Public Utilities recommends either a new liquefied natural gas storage facility somewhere in its Franklin County service area, or extending its distribution main from Greenfield to the Tennessee Gas Pipeline interconnection in Southwick to allow more gas to flow to customers here.

A 500,000-cubic-foot LNG facility, estimated at about $120 million, would dwarf the two 70,000-gallon tanks at Berkshire’s existing Whately site.

The larger tank would increase LNG storage for winter peak demand and be filled by tanker trucks during the summer. It would be built somewhere in the company’s northern portion of the Eastern Division, essentially the Franklin County service area, which now includes Greenfield, Montague, Deerfield, Sunderland and Whately. It could even be the current Long Plain Road site in Whately, where five 70,000-gallon tanks had originally been planned.

“A serious concern,” according to Berkshire Gas in its filing about adding tanks is the cost — described as at least twice the price of expanding the distribution main.

Still, with the possibility of sharing of costs with other gas distribution companies or large users, Berkshire Gas describes an expanded line as the “most attractive alternative.” Its filing says the larger main “provides the volumes the company needs for the near term, and will allow for growth well into the future.”

The company says it needs to conduct further analysis before making a final choice on either project.

Once chosen, either option would entail significant work, ranging from siting, local and state permitting, financing and construction. The company expects to pick its most viable option by year’s end to present to state regulators, but there will be no lifting of a moratorium until a solution “has been identified and moved far enough along in the process to be confident it will proceed,” the company has said.

Clearly, it’s going to take more time — for the company to decide on its course and then put it into action — before Berkshire Gas will consider lifting the moratorium that has been discouraging development for two years already. It’s a shame the company could not have begun planning these NED pipeline alternatives two years ago.

We can only hope that it will expedite its current studies so we don’t lose any more time than absolutely necessary.


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