Berkshire Gas sees 2 ways to end moratorium

  • Berkshire Gas service center on Mill Street in Greenfield. Recorder File Photo

Recorder Staff
Published: 10/20/2016 11:03:06 PM

Berkshire Gas Co. has narrowed its options to two on ways to lift its self-imposed moratorium on new and expanded service in its Franklin-Hampshire service area.

The company’s filing with the state Department of Public Utilities on its Forecast and Supply Plan for 2016-17 through 2020-21, recommends either a new liquefied natural gas storage facility somewhere in its Franklin County service area, as well as an expansion of its distribution main between Greenfield and Tennessee Gas Pipeline interconnection in Southwick.

The filing provides few details, but rather points to further analysis that would be required, along with the need for the company to proceed with either project.

Berkshire also dismissed half a dozen alternative solutions to lifting the moratorium it imposed in 2014 that was originally contingent on completion of TGP’s now-discontinued Northeast Energy Direct interstate gas pipeline project through eight Franklin County towns.

Among those alternatives are contracting with TGP to upgrade or reconstruct the existing “Northampton Lateral” line, seen as at least three times as costly as the distribution main alternative, and expanding the Whately LNG terminal built in 1999. That alternative was not serving the company’s needs and not being cost effective, Berkshire Gas said.

Other rejected alternatives include installing additional propane injection capabilities into the distribution system, expansion of Berkshire’s “load management,” energy efficiency and leak repair, or taking “no action.” The filing says the company already “pursues all energy-efficiency opportunities” and aggressively complies with mandated leak inspection and repair requirements, and that expanding these programs would not provide a long-term solution to the reliable capacity issues that led to imposing the moratorium.

The new large LNG facility, which the company plans to analyze further as an option despite relatively high capital costs estimated at about $120 million, would include a tank of roughly 500,000 cubic feet, much larger than the two 70,000-gallon tanks at Berkshire’s existing Whately site.

“The larger size tank would increase LNG storage on site resulting in more substantial trucking requirements, but mostly during off-peak periods,” the filing says. “Liquefaction could be considered as an operational benefit if the supply of LNG were interrupted.”

The location would be somewhere in the company’s Franklin County service area, which now includes Greenfield, Montague, Deerfield, Sunderland and Whately, and might even include the Long Plain Road site in Whately where five 70,000-gallon tanks had originally been planned. (Berkshire Gas also serves Amherst, Hadley and Hatfield in Hampshire County.)

“In any of the cases, the new, larger LNG facility would be filled during the summer months and, therefore, would be a more reliable solution than any Whately facility expansion.

“A serious concern” with siting a larger storage facility at the Whately site would be the need to remove the existing equipment, which it depends on for a portion of the winter heating season.

Another is the cost of the project, described as at least twice as costly as the alternative of expanding the distribution main — a 19-mile extension of the 12-inch distribution pipe that now serves Franklin County southward to a new interconnection with TGP’s east-west pipeline, at an estimated $58 million cost.

The filing points to possible sharing of costs with other gas distribution companies or large users for such an expanded line, described as the “most attractive alternative … It provides the volumes the Company needs for the near term, and will allow for growth well into the future.”

Berkshire Gas spokesman Christopher Farrell told The Recorder, “With each alternative, gas main enhancements will be needed within the Eastern Division to be able to move gas supply at reliable and safe operating pressure.”

The company is continuing to analyze which would be the most viable option, he said.

“Either option would entail significant work ranging from siting, local and state permitting, financing and construction. It isn’t possible at this point to provide a specific timeline for lifting the moratorium. Once our analysis is narrowed down to what appears to be the most viable option, which is anticipated by year’s end, we will be in a better position to assess a potential timeline.”

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,” Farrell added. “Berkshire must have a high degree of confidence that the selected alternative will be constructed and placed into service,” in light of cancellation last spring of TGP’s Northeast Energy Direct project, which Berkshire said it was relying on to ensure adequate supply.

Kathryn Eiseman, president of Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast, said in response to the filing, “It appears that the only options that Berkshire Gas considers viable are large scale capacity expansions that would allow for unfettered growth. This is not a time for unfettered expansion of natural gas consumption. Limited, targeted expansions to accommodate peak demand may be unavoidable in the short term, but we need to embark on a concerted effort to displace energy sources that exacerbate climate change, rather than allowing natural gas infrastructure to metastasize.”

MassPLAN is a limited intervenor in the company’s filing with the DPU.

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