NATURAL GAS MORATORIUM IN THE NEWS
07/11/17 – Massachusetts regulators approve Berkshire Gas 5-year plan, while insisting company must work to lift moratorium
BOSTON — State regulators on Friday approved a required long-range planning document from Berkshire Gas, but did not immediately order the utility to lift a vexing natural gas service moratorium in the upper Pioneer Valley.
Instead, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities acknowledged “an urgent need to end the moratorium as soon as practicable,” and ordered Berkshire to provide progress reports every six months until the problem is solved.
State Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, on Tuesday called the order a “positive development” and said the DPU decision, while not perfect, “outlines a path forward” to restoring new natural gas service to the area.
Berkshire submitted its 245-page five-year forecast and supply plan a year ago today. The plans must be submitted every two years. The plans predict demand and describe how that demand will be met. The plan approved Friday addressed the issue of the moratorium as part of the company’s analysis.
BOSTON — Six western Massachusetts legislators on Wednesday prodded the state’s Department of Public Utilities to quickly “identify a way forward” to end a natural gas service moratorium in eight Pioneer Valley towns.
The lawmakers said they are “deeply concerned” about the moratorium’s economic development impact, and pushed the DPU to approve a solution.
The company previously promoted major interstate pipeline construction as the only feasible solution to lifting the moratorium. However, Kinder Morgan withdrew plans for its massive Northeast Energy Direct pipeline system last summer, leaving Berkshire — a subsidiary of the publicly-traded Avangrid –flat-footed and scrambling to devise “Plan B.”
Rosenberg and his colleagues on Wednesday asserted that “supply-side and demand-side opportunities, when taken together, can end the moratorium swiftly and safely.”
Currently, “there is no timetable for the moratorium’s end,” they wrote.
Rosenberg and his colleagues assert that the moratorium can be lifted without building a major new supply line north from Hampden County.
Their petition cites an expert witness who testified that Berkshire could “lift the moratorium this year” with infrastructure upgrades and better use of its storage plant in Whately. Another expert said that tweaks to Berkshire’s “load forecast,” combined with energy efficiency and demand response measures, could lift the moratorium by 2018.
10/20/16 – Berkshire Gas sees 2 ways to end moratorium
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
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.”
After facing pressure from Western Massachusetts lawmakers, Berkshire Gas Co. on Friday told state utility regulators it will try to identify ways to lift its moratorium on new natural gas customers in the company’s Eastern Division.
The company is undertaking a “comprehensive and sophisticated analytical process” to identify and evaluate alternatives that would serve existing customers while also allowing for an end to the moratorium, states a July 8 letter from James M. Avery of the Pierce Atwood law firm to Department of Public Utilities Secretary Mark D. Marini.
The letter was attached to the company’s 2016 long-range forecast and supply plan, a biennial document required by the DPU that projects customer demand and fuel supply conditions five years into the future.
Among reams of data and information, the 245-page plan outlines eight possible options for supplying Berkshire’s Pioneer Valley customers through 2020, one of which is a “no build” scenario that assumes continuance of the moratorium.
Other stated options include expanding natural gas pipeline delivery to the region, expanding a liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage facility in Whately, building a new LNG facility elsewhere, or installing more “propane air facilities.” The company will evaluate displacing some of its service to another shipper, and look at load management and increased energy efficiency. The options to lift the moratorium all assume expansion of Berkshire’s distribution infrastructure.
In 2015, Berkshire Gas announced it would halt new service to Amherst, Hadley, Hatfield and Sunderland. In late 2014, it stopped new service to Deerfield, Greenfield, Montague and Whately. The company said a south-to-north pipeline spur that serves the Pioneer Valley, known as the Northampton lateral, is close to being tapped out.
The company at the time said the moratorium would stay in place until a proposed Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline through the region was approved and built. But Kinder Morgan withdrew supportfor its 420-mile Northeast Energy Direct pipeline in April.
At that point, Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg urged Berkshire Gas to devise a “Plan B” to serve new customers without the pipeline.
Berkshire Gas now seeks to “identify any and all practical or feasible resource alternatives” and then “consider the feasibility of these alternatives and determine which resources are appropriate for more comprehensive analysis.”
Last week, Rosenberg and other lawmakers from the Berkshire Gas service area prodded the company to expedite its planning effort, saying the moratorium has had “a significant impact on many residents in Franklin and Hampshire counties.”
Rosenberg, Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, and Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, in a July 5 letter to DPU chairwoman Angela M. O’Connor, also asked the utility regulators to hold a public hearing in the Pioneer Valley in the matter of Berkshire Gas and its plans for the future.
The lawmakers said they have been working with the company “to ensure that all viable solutions are being examined” to lift the moratorium. Local officials and business leaders have expressed concern that the moratorium will stymie economic development in the region.
Berkshire has faced scrutiny from several fronts.
In December Northampton lawyer Thomas Lesser filed a civil lawsuiton behalf of an Amherst developer asking Berkshire to prove that its moratorium was not merely a ploy to pressure communities into supporting the Kinder Morgan pipeline.
Lesser noted that Berkshire’s corporate parent at the time, UIL Holdings, had a financial interest in the pipeline’s successful completion. In 2015, the Connecticut-based holding company announced an $80 million investment in Northeast Energy Direct. UIL’s natural gas assets are now owned by Iberdrola USA Networks, a division of the publicly traded Avangrid.
Anti-pipeline activists have also called upon Berkshire Gas to “fix the leaks” in its distribution system before seeking additional pipeline capacity.
Last year the office of Attorney General Maura Healey told utility regulators that Berkshire Gas may have overstated its future demand in seeking DPU approval for a long-term supply contract on the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Hundreds packed a hearing in Greenfield to oppose the deal, seen as a building block in gaining federal approval for the project. Kulik and Mark testified at that hearing to enthusiastic applause before the floor was opened to local officials and the public.
Meanwhile, several area legislators have complained to the DPU that the continuing moratorium by the Berkshire Gas Co. on new hookups is hurting economic development in the region.
The moratorium has been in place since December 2014, when the company announced its supply and distribution system was near capacity. At the time, it said it needed the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline through western Massachusetts to solve its supply problem. But that project was withdrawn in the face of determined local opposition, and Berkshire Gas has yet to put in place an alternative. It’s starting to feel like we are being punished for fighting the pipeline.
Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, and state Reps. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, and Paul Mark, D-Peru, filed a brief with the DPU on the long-range plans of Berkshire Gas.
The legislators fear that the ongoing Berkshire Gas moratorium is hindering economic development and hurting the quality of life of residents in the region. The brief states: “Due to the moratorium, businesses are not choosing to locate or expand in the Eastern Division.”
The brief says that a continued and open-ended moratorium is unacceptable and asks regulators to quickly identify a way to end the moratorium as soon as possible.
It encourages the DPU to consider testimony about possible demand and supply solutions to the moratorium such as expanding energy efficiency programs.
The Western Massachusetts Problem: Vested interests in building pipelines may also be hindering sound utility planning to meet customers’ heating needs. In western Massachusetts, Berkshire Gas and Columbia Gas have imposed moratoria on connecting new gas customers until Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct is constructed. The argument that large new pipelines are needed to meet heating demands is different from claiming that pipelines are needed to supply power plants, but the argument suffers from the same weaknesses: inadequate pursuit of alternatives and misaligned incentives. Improving efficiency is the cheapest and easiest way to free up gas capacity, yet in planning for the next three years, Berkshire Gas proposed 0.73 percent annual savings, 41 percent below the average for other Massachusetts utilities, and below the levels that the company itself achieved in 2013 & 2014 (data from the Energy Efficiency Advisory Council). Berkshire Gas has also been challenged to defend its moratorium following revelation of a previously undisclosed stake in the Kinder Morgan pipeline by Berkshire’s parent company, UIL Holding Corp (now part of Iberdrola). Northeast Energy Solutions, the organization that unearthed the connection, was blocked from participating in review of Berkshire’s proposed gas supply contract with Kinder Morgan, and the organization has requested state and federal inquiries into the UIL investment.
For this reason, Berkshire Gas has, effective immediately, invoked a moratorium on any new natural gas service in the Hampshire County communities of Amherst, Hadley, Hatfield and Sunderland. A similar moratorium was declared in the communities of Deerfield, Greenfield, Montague and Whately in late 2014.
Current natural gas customers are unaffected by this moratorium. During the moratorium period however, customers cannot add any additional natural gas burning equipment to their current service.