Editorial: Get on the ball for consumers, Berkshire Gas

Published: 9/5/2016 2:48:29 PM

Last week’s Department of Public Utilities’ hearing about Berkshire Gas Co.’s four-year plan for supply and demand offered no game-changing revelations about the company’s self-imposed natural gas moratorium.

Berkshire Gas remains steadfast in saying that having reached pipeline capacity, while the affected communities and their elected representatives say the utility has been slow, at best, to explore alternatives that will bring an end to the moratorium.

And like it or not, it’s up to the DPU to untangle this standstill and get Berkshire Gas to act in the interests of its customer base in the territory that covers Greenfield, Montague, Deerfield, Sunderland and Whately in Franklin County and Amherst, Hadley and Hatfield in Hampshire County.

This agency, after all, in its oversight role has been entrusted with “monitoring service quality.” How then could the DPU not understand the indefinite moratorium is a drag on the area’s economy? This alarm has been ringing ever since Berkshire Gas enacted the moratorium in 2014, while waiting for and investing in the now-dead Northeast Energy Direct pipeline through Franklin County.

It’s an alarm that just keeps getting louder, and raised by people with different perspectives in the region. State Senate President Stanley Rosenberg told the panel during its hearing in Greenfield this week that “this moratorium, which is unprecedented in its scope and duration, is having, and will continue to have, a negative impact on the economy in our area both now and into the future.”

Meanwhile, Amherst Economic Development Director Geoff Kravitz’s testimony provided a ground view on what has been happening when he said, “The moratorium coincides with a particularly critical time in Amherst’s history when we are seeing a renewed interest in private development. … (It) has hampered Amherst’s revitalization efforts by forcing developers and business owners to turn to alternative fuel sources, which are less convenient, cause development delays, increasing the financial cost of construction, and, discourages business opportunities and development projects.”

The DPU should take into account these and the many other statements as it considers the plan Berkshire Gas puts in place in the near future.

Berkshire Gas should not be left to its own devices and timetable for finding a solution, since the company suffers from tunnel vision, having placed all of its focus and hopes on the now withdrawn pipeline project.

Instead, we would argue that the DPU should take an even more active role than it has in the past when forecasts and plans have been presented. In protecting the public’s interests, it should help establish a timetable for providing adequate gas supplies. This could include expanded liquified natural gas storage in Whately and better conservation and leak detection efforts.

The region’s lawmakers want to ensure Berkshire Gas is listening and therefore sought official intervenor status in the DPU proceedings with Berkshire Gas. But even though this was passed, the DPU needs to entrench itself on the side of the consumer here and help bring about a quick and satisfactory end to the moratorium.


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