Rick Perry links pipelines, natural security

Rick Perry links pipelines, natural security

Region's grid operator to release fuel security study next month

THERE WAS MORE NEWS out of Washington this week suggesting that the federal government could intervene to override local opposition to natural gas pipelines in order to protect national security.

According to press reports, Energy Secretary Rick Perry singled out New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his political opposition to building new pipeline capacity in his state. But it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to suggest Massachusetts might also be on Perry’s radar screen, as legal and political roadblocks in the Bay State are blocking efforts to add pipeline capacity in the New England region.

“As a country, we need to sit down and have a thoughtful conversation about, is American’s energy infrastructure in the national security of this country?” Perry asked. “I’ll suggest to you that it is.”

In a speech to the National Petroleum Council, Perry singled out New York for scorn, suggesting Cuomo’s political opposition to new pipelines was interfering with legitimate efforts to add pipeline capacity. Perry’s comments came shortly after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission overruled a decision by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation denying a water quality permit for the construction of a connection between an existing pipeline and a natural gas plant currently in development.

At the same gathering, Perry’s deputy secretary, Dan Brouillette, was quoted as saying the agency was examining its eminent domain powers under the Federal Power Act.

“We can’t stop a state legislature and a governor from doing what they think is in their self-interest, but these are interstate industries,” Brouillette said, according to a story by UtilityDive, an industry publication. “Instinct tells me that with regard to infrastructure, we want to see more, not less. It would be the irony of ironies if we had all this [oil and gas] production and no way to move it to market.”

Officials at the Energy Department declined comment.

Many New England states, as well as the Baker administration in Massachusetts, have indicated they would like to see the region add natural gas pipeline capacity. That effort is stalled, largely because of legal hurdles and political opposition in Massachusetts. The state Supreme Judicial Court in August 2016 ruled that existing state law didn’t allow ratepayers of electric utilities to pay for natural gas pipeline infrastructure, the preferred way of financing a pipeline designed to serve gas-fired electricity generating plants. Political opposition on Beacon Hill, particularly in the Senate, makes changing the law unlikely, and environmental advocates are pushing back against expanding use of fossil fuels.

Is it possible the federal government could intervene? There is lots of speculation, but no one is sure how it would happen. The next big step is a fuel security study due out at the end of next month from the regional power grid operator, ISO-New England. The study is expected to assess the ability of the region’s power plants to have or obtain the fuel required to generate electricity during the entire winter season of 2024-2025.

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About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

“It’s important to note that the study is not focused on the effects of expanded access to natural gas from the region’s pipeline network and will not identify needs for new or expanded pipeline capacity or natural gas infrastructure,” said a handout on the fuel security study. “Following discussion of the results, the ISO will work with stakeholders to determine whether further operational or market design measures will be needed to address the fuel security risk.”

Lee Olivier, an executive vice president at Eversource Energy, which is working with National Grid and Spectra Energy to build the Access Northeast natural gas pipeline, told financial analysts in February that the grid operator’s report will spell out the risks and costs associated with not expanding pipeline capacity. “I don’t see how they can maintain reliability without bringing gas supply into the region,” he said.