Kill the Access Northeast pipeline

We don't need it and can't afford it

LAST MONTH, 74 conservation commissions across Massachusetts sent Gov. Charlie Baker a letter asking him to drop his support for new natural gas pipelines, and over 450 small business owners petitioned the governor to say no to new pipelines.

Massachusetts does not want more fossil fuel pipelines. We don’t need them and we can’t afford them. And we will keep telling our elected leaders until they listen.

Ever since his election, Gov. Baker has been a staunch supporter of efforts by pipeline companies to have ratepayers cover the cost of constructing, operating, and maintaining massive new natural gas pipelines.

Baker on Brexit

Gov. Charlie Baker: A big pipeline booster.

The Access Northeast project would entail, in Massachusetts alone, over 50 miles of pipeline across central and southeastern Massachusetts, expansion of a not-yet-permitted compressor station in Weymouth, and massive storage tanks for liquefied natural gas, along with a liquefaction facility, in Acushnet.

Electric utilities and New England’s grid operator ISO New England claim that we need it to reduce “capacity constraints,” and that the need is so urgent that the pipeline project should be paid for by consumers, through surcharges on our electricity bills.

Anytime a fossil fuel company tells you they’ve got your best interests at heart, grab your wallet. And think about how much you appreciate clean air and clean water, because those will also be at risk.

Spectra Energy, the Texas company that wants to build Access Northeast, claims it will cost consumers $3.2 billion.  However, a recent report by Synapse Energy Economics estimates that the pipeline will actually cost $6.6 billion when operations, maintenance, depreciation, and a hefty profit margin for the developers are included. Recall the $24 billion Big Dig was originally projected to cost $2.5 billion.

To add insult to injury, we don’t need the gas. How do we know this? Because studies conducted by those who don’t stand to profit from more fossil fuel investment tell us so. A 2015 study commissioned by Attorney General Maura Healey – the chief ratepayer advocate in the state – found that more gas pipelines are not needed to meet future energy demand, and that investment in energy efficiency and demand response would result in the greatest customer savings.

A review of regional natural gas needs published this month by University of New Hampshire found that New England does not need to increase energy use to continue to grow its economy. It concluded that a “strategy of expanded natural gas capacity in the region funded by ratepayers poses a significant risk of raising electricity costs further” and that “[p]olicy makers may want to consider options that carry less risk and a better return on investment, including better use of existing infrastructure and increased investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy.”

Even the Baker administration concedes that energy demand is expected to remain flat in coming years, but points to “peak usage” as the area of concern. What this means is that for about 10 days per year – the coldest winter days when Massachusetts residents are using more natural gas than usual for both heating their homes and powering their electricity – there may be a shortfall in natural gas which could cause a spike in price.

Building a $6.6 billion pipeline to cover these few days of possible shortages is like putting an addition on your home for the few weekends a year when your in-laws come to visit, rather than putting them up for a few days in a nearby hotel.  

The most outrageous element of this plan is that by the time these new pipelines would be built, Massachusetts will have significantly more renewable energy projects online, powering our homes, businesses and governments with clean energy. Solar energy is growing at a rapid pace. The Massachusetts Legislature passed a bill in 2016 requiring 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind to be procured by 2027. Our existing state Renewable Portfolio Standard mandates that the amount of clean energy purchased by electric utilities increase every year. With energy demand flat, or shrinking, the Synapse report predicts natural gas use in New England will plummet 41 percent from 2015 levels by 2030, and that “even existing gas pipelines may operate under capacity.”

And unlike fossil fuel, renewable energy projects mean keeping energy dollars here in the Commonwealth, creating jobs for Massachusetts workers. Already over 100,000 people are employed in the clean energy industry, and that number is expected to expand. The New Bedford port is poised for the new wind industry jobs to be created by the offshore wind procurement.

Meet the Author

Emily Norton

Chapter Director, Massachusetts Sierra Club
Especially when our environment is under attack by the climate-change denier in chief in the White House, Massachusetts must show the country how it’s done. Our future should be powered by clean, renewable energy, not the polluting fuels of the past. We must put people over pipelines, planet over profits, and our children’s health above all else.

Emily Norton is chapter director of the Massachusetts Sierra Club.