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Towns, lawmakers to be intervenors in Berkshire Gas moratorium proceedings

  • ROSENBERG

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



Recorder Staff
Friday, September 02, 2016

Area towns and state legislators will be able to play a full intervenor role in state proceedings involving Berkshire Gas Co.’s new customer moratorium.

The state Department of Public Utilities, acting one day after a Greenfield public hearing, has approved all intervenor requests but one.

The DPU rejected the proposed intervention by Pipeline Awareness Network for the Northeast in Berkshire Gas’ four-year forecast and resource plan, just as it rejected the pipeline opposition group’s proposed intervention along with that of Rep. Stephen Kulik of Worthington in May 2015.

DPU Hearing Officer Laurie Ellen Weisman on Wednesday approved interventions by the towns of Deerfield, Montague, Amherst and Hadley, as well as a joint intervention by Senate President Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst, and Reps. Kulik, Ellen Story of Amherst, Peter Kocot of Northampton, John Scibak of South Hadley and Paul Mark of Peru.

Weisman’s ruling came after the hearing in which Rosenberg read joint testimony stating, “We believe that harm will occur if we are denied intervenor status. ... We believe that there are many alternatives that need to be fully explored in this proceeding, in addition to the potential for increased gas supply.”

At the same hearing, Kathryn Eiseman, president of PLAN-NE, testified, “Berkshire Gas objects to our intervention in this proceeding. The company says that PLAN is not a ratepayer advocacy group, and that some of our members just happen to be ratepayers by ‘coincidence of location.’ In fact, the opposite is true: local residents are Berkshire’s customers by coincidence of location; they have no other option for gas service. Had Berkshire been more attentive to its customers, there would be no need for a ratepayer advocacy group such as PLAN to represent their interests. Despite what the company claims, our corporate purpose specifically includes protecting consumer interests in relation to proposed and existing gas infrastructure.”

Yet Weisman, who ran Tuesday night’s hearing in the Greenfield Middle School Auditorium, wrote in her decision the following day, “PLAN has not shown that it is substantially and specifically affected by this proceeding. PLAN states that it has significant interests in rate and cost implications, but those interests are not sufficient to establish that PLAN is substantially and specifically affected by this proceeding or that it has a right to intervene as a full participant. A ratepayer that alleges no peculiar damage to itself does not have a constitutional or statutory right to participate as an intervenor.”

She added that the attorney general, which is intervening in the case along with the state Department of Energy Resources, can adequately represent PLAN’s interests and that the organization can be a limited intervenor, but not allowed to present witnesses and formally question lawyers, Berkshire Gas, and expert witnesses in the case.

The company, in arguing why PLAN should not be allowed full intervention status, wrote on Aug. 22, “While there is adequate time to complete the review of the Company’s petition in this proceeding, the Company and its customers maintain a substantial interest in an orderly and efficient process. Simply put, the Company is devoting substantial effort to its ongoing resource plan update and extensive irrelevant and repetitive process in this proceeding will only frustrate the prompt completion of such task. PLAN’s petition for intervention is based on its allegations that its members will be affected by any rate or cost impact associated with the implementation of Berkshire’s resource plan and, presumably, any later proceedings seeking specific implementation of such plan … The fact that some of PLAN’s members may coincidentally be customers of Berkshire is an insufficient basis for intervention. PLAN’s stated organizational purpose is not as a ratepayer advocacy group …. (and ) it is only the coincidence of location that some of PLAN’s members may be customers of the Company.”

Eiseman, reacting to the DPU decision, said, “A primary reason we formed PLAN was to create a vehicle to advocate — on behalf of a broad-based coalition — in regulatory proceedings relating to gas infrastructure. The DPU, perversely, continues to keep out the organization that would streamline proceedings by pulling together interested parties as a single group, and instead has allowed municipal and legislator members of PLAN to intervene on their own. … The Massachusetts DPU’s justifications for denying us full intervenor status do not hold up.”

Weisman also noted in her ruling that Boston attorney Richard Kanoff, who sought to represent PLAN as a formal intervenor also represents the legislators along with Deerfield, Hadley, and Montague as full intervenors.

“This representation of disparate interests, particularly where one of the parties is a limited participant, raises procedural, privilege, and confidentiality concerns,” she wrote, directing him to submit by Sept. 8 “his plans for addressing these concerns and minimizing any appearances of conflict, real or perceived.”

The 2015 rejection of the PLAN-Kulik intervention was appealed in Supreme Judicial Court but was later dismissed as moot, following Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s plans to discontinue the affected Northeast Energy Direct project.

You can reach Richie Davis at rdavis@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 269