Records Show New England Energy Plan Favors Industry, Law Foundation Says

Coal-Fired Power Plant Photo Credit: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg  

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) said records it obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that a regional energy plan among New England governors favors large gas pipeline and electricity transmission line expansion projects at the expense of the environment.

“As the customers whose dollars are at risk, we all should have a chance to fully understand what we will be buying with this proposed plan, through an open process based on sound research and analysis, not backroom dealings with industry insiders,” Christophe Courchesne, a CLF attorney, said in a June 24 CLF website blog post.

The six New England governors announced in December 2013 that they would cooperate to deliver more and less expensive energy to the region, primarily through a large expansion of gas pipelines and construction of new electricity infrastructure, to bring more Canadian hydropower into New England.

The New England States Committee on Electricity (NESCOE) was established to coordinate the plans. The gas infrastructure project will be paid for by fees through ratepayers' electricity bills.

The CLF agrees that the New England region, which relies on natural gas for 60 percent of its energy needs, does need to make more gas available to fulfill its energy needs, Seth Kaplan, a CLF vice president, told Bloomberg BNA June 27. The CLF believes the region can achieve this by making better use of current gas infrastructure, using gas more efficiently and, if necessary, incrementally building additional gas pipelines.

Plan Not in Line With Climate Goals

New England will need to reduce its reliance on gas by 2030 or so to meet its greenhouse gas emissions goals, Kaplan said. Building a large, new gas line as proposed by NESCOE is unnecessary and will commit the region to relying heavily on gas in the future, which isn't in line with the region's goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Kaplan said.

“If we need to start reducing and moving away from gas within a few decades, building 100-year-plus gas infrastructure doesn't make sense,” he said.

The CLF also claims that the NESCOE's planning is being done behind closed doors, with heavy influence by the utility companies that would benefit from the multibillion-dollar expansions. The NESCOE has held no meetings for the public about the plans, and neither have any of the six New England states, Kaplan said.

The CLF believes that if the public is allowed to participate, through public meetings held every six months for example, NESCOE will forego its current plan to build a large new gas pipeline, Kaplan said. “Good public process involves back and forth dialog and a fundamental belief that the more people involved, the better the outcome,” Kaplan said.

Too Early for Public Participation

Mark Sylvia, Massachusetts commissioner of energy resources, said it is too early to engage the public in the gas infrastructure planning process.

The states are currently engaging with industry and other stakeholders about what the region's capacity is and what its needs are, Sylvia said. “We are still in the investigation and discovery phase,” Sylvia said. NESCOE provides updates on its website, he said.

Massachusetts has a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050 compared to 1990, and it is committed to increasing its reliance on clean energy sources like hydropower, wind and solar, Sylvia said.

The state saw very high natural gas prices in the winter because there isn't enough existing gas infrastructure to handle the demand for gas, he said. “Natural gas isn't perfect, but it's necessary. Gas is in the energy mix now, and we're doing everything from our end to ensure that we're using fuels in the most efficient way,” Sylvia said.

State Working on Records Request

The state is in the process of responding to CLF's records request, Krista Selmi, Massachusetts energy department spokeswoman, told Bloomberg BNA June 27.

NESCOE didn't respond to a request for comment but referred the request to the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources. Northeast Utilities, which is involved with the gas pipeline infrastructure project, also didn't respond to a request for comment.

The CLF filed a public records request March 19 with NESCOE and the states. The CLF released the documents and a summary of what it received June 24. The CLF claims the documents prove that the NESCOE is deliberately excluding the public to avoid scrutiny.

The CLF didn't receive all the documents it requested and is considering legal action, Courchesne said.


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