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Berkshire Gas wants to find plan to end moratorium

  • The Berkshire Gas service center on Mill Street in Greenfield. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • The Berkshire Gas service center on Mill Street in Greenfield. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt



Recorder Staff
Monday, July 11, 2016

Berkshire Gas Co. has filed a four-year forecast with the state Department of Public Utilities, saying it wants to identify a plan to end the current moratorium on news customers and expansion in the Franklin County area.

The plan is needed to address the area’s growing demand for natural gas in the wake of cancellation of the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline through the region.

While the study is ongoing, the filing speaks to a range of options, from continuing the moratorium to increased conservation, storing more liquified natural gas in Whately for peak winter demand, to using pipelines or other systems of natural gas distribution.

The company’s 241-page filing, for the years 2016-2017 through 2020-2021, was made Friday, about a month ahead of schedule, “to facilitate … more comprehensive and potentially expedited review,” as it completes ongoing analysis of supply alternatives so it can lift a 2014 moratorium imposed in its eastern service area.

That area includes Greenfield, Montague, Deerfield, Sunderland and Whately in Franklin County, and Amherst, Hadley and Hatfield in Hampshire County.

Berkshire Gas, which last December became an indirectly and wholly owned subsidiary of the Spanish energy giant Iberdrola, is performing its comprehensive analysis “to identify and evaluate potential resource alternatives that would effectively address the requirements of existing customers while also permitting the termination of the moratorium,” the filing says.

Once it concludes identifying “any and all practical or feasible resource alternatives” to meet its requirements, it will consider their feasibility to determine “which resources are appropriate for more comprehensive analysis.”

Possibilities

The eight alternatives being weighed include a “no-build” baseline option that would require continuation of the moratorium on new customers and expanded service in Franklin and Hampshire counties.

Also being considered is expansion of the company’s Whately LNG facility, built in 1999 with two 70,000-gallon tanks to be used for the kind of winter peaks about which the company has raised concerns because of natural-gas pipeline supply system constraints. A concrete pad was built there to allow three more tanks to be added but they were never placed in service.

Other alternatives include expansion of pipeline delivery capability to the Franklin-Hampshire region, installation of a new, larger LNG storage and vaporization facility “in the northern portion” of that region, displacing service from another Tennessee Gas Co. lateral line.

Also being considered are negotiation of additional load-management arrangements, expansion of energy efficiency efforts and installation of “propane-air” equipment in the southern part of the Franklin-Hampshire region, which like a new LNG facility would require an upgrade of Berkshire’s infrastructure.

Propane-air systems create a synthetic natural gas with characteristics similar to those of natural gas, according to one provider of the technology.

Berkshire, which says it will provide updates or supplements to its analysis, says it expects its “ongoing comprehensive resource identification and screening process” by this fall and then begin detailed analyses to evaluate the most feasible alternatives.

Last week, state Senate President Stanley Rosenberg along with state Reps. Paul Mark and Stephen Kulik formally requested the DPU to conduct an area public hearing on the company’s proposed plan.

The legislators, who have been meeting with Berkshire Gas Co. officials to press them to lift the moratorium, said in their July 5 request to DPU Chairwoman Angela M. O’Connor that public input on the plan is important.

“The Berkshire Gas Company’s moratorium on new customers in its eastern division has a significant impact on many residents in Franklin and Hampshire Counties,” said their letter. “We are working with the company to ensure that all viable solutions are being examined and a key component of that is the biennial Forecast and Supply plan.”

Kathryn Eiseman, president of Pipeline Awareness Network for the Northeast, said the recent Berkshire filing is “a plan to come up with a plan,” and criticized the company for having pinned all of its hopes on the Kinder Morgan NED pipeline, which was canceled in May because of insufficient customer demand.

“They never had a backup plan,” said Eiseman. “My preference would be for them to get serious about energy efficiency programs,” including a robust initiative to replace inefficient gas furnaces, along with better integration with plans to fix system leaks.

On the Web: bit.ly/29tqRhg

You can reach Richie Davis at rdavis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 269