A silver lining to natural gas moratorium

  • The Berkshire Gas service center on Mill Street in Greenfield. File photo

Published: 11/30/2018 9:54:40 AM

It would have been nice had Berkshire Gas been able to find a way to expand its fuel supply for our region in an economical and eco-friendly way.

We will have to trust that the company and our state utility regulators correctly concluded the utility can’t find a financially feasible way to end its four-year-old moratorium on new hookups and expanded service in its eight-town Franklin-Hampshire territory.

Of course, the news only fuels the suspicion of some who have felt for four years now that the moratorium was punishment for successful grassroots opposition to the Tennessee Gas Pipeline project through Franklin County that would have provided Berkshire Gas with ample supplies for all its present and future customers — especially for its power generator customers hungry to keep our electricity flowing winter or summer.

The moratorium affects Greenfield, Montague, Deerfield, Sunderland and Whately, and extends to Amherst, Hadley and Hatfield. The utility wrote recently to more than 300 people and businesses on a waiting list, advising them to seek alternative energy sources.

To expand its supply without a big new pipeline, Berkshire Gas had been studying either building a new liquefied natural gas storage facility somewhere in its Franklin County service area to meet peak demand, and an expansion of its 16-mile distribution system between Greenfield and Tennessee Gas Pipeline interconnection in Southwick.

But Berkshire Gas President Karen Zink says their analysis has concluded that the two options “have proven to be too costly for our customers. Additionally, the implementation of either option would likely drive our natural gas service rates well beyond those of competing fuels … Consequently, the moratorium on natural gas service will have to continue indefinitely due to the limitations on the capacity of the delivery system.”

Berkshire Gas estimated the two fuel supply options would have cost $70 million to $100 million, which “nearly equals the value of the company’s total existing infrastructure across the entire service territory and makes the identified solutions uneconomical for customers,” Zink said.

Critics of Berkshire Gas, and fossil fuel use in general, don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing for the same reasons some critics of the TGP pipeline opposed that project: that as a society we should be spending more time and energy and innovation developing clean energy sources and extending conservation in a time when global warming alarms are sounding ever more loudly worldwide. Those critics are also suspicious that the pipeline idea isn’t dead and this moratorium keeps the pressure on while the utility and its big customers wait for a more favorable regulatory environment to try again.

It would be nice to think the pipeline, fought so hard and successfully by so many in Franklin County, was a dead deal and that affordable alternative gas sources would have allowed businesses to easily expand with cheap, low-emissions natural gas. But then, we need only watch images of the intense wildfires in California to appreciate how urgent it is that we wean ourselves off fossil fuels and embrace conservation and non-carbon emitting clean energy alternatives as soon as possible.

And so maybe if we take the long view, this moratorium is a sliver of a silver lining. Just don’t say that too loudly near those 300 people on a waiting list for a convenient gas hookup.


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