We don’t need Kinder Morgan’s pipeline

We don’t need Kinder Morgan’s pipeline

LNG or fixing leaks can address our 1 percent problem

THE ISSUE OF NEED is of paramount importance in the matter of Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct’s natural gas pipeline proposal. Yet need plays no part in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Project Manager Eric Tomasi’s charter to develop an Environmental Impact Statement for the NED project. Need typically falls under the purview of “credentialed” industry stakeholders. The public is dismissed as unqualified to contribute, as we can be “fickle and recalcitrant,” according to Ben d’Antonio, staff attorney for the New England States Committee on Electricity.

The case for need is generally predicated on the winter peaking problem. Winter is a time when the weather can be dangerous. People are vulnerable. It’s a scenario screaming for exploitation by an opportunistic businessman looking to export natural gas to global markets.

The thing is, New England’s winter peaking problem is a 1 percent problem.  If you were to add up all of the peak-shaving episodes—times when gas-fueled generators that do not commit to firm supply choose to sit idle because gas on the spot market is too expensive to make generation profitable—the gas you would need equates to 1 percent of the region’s annual demand of 889 billion cubic feet. That’s just 10 billion cubic feet.

According to the US Energy information Administration, the average natural gas price reached a high of more than $20 per million Btu in January 2014. The average LNG tanker holds about 3 billion cubic feet of natural gas. This translates to an estimated cargo value of $60 million at this unit price. Under a hypothetical Winter Reliability Program, ISO New England could subsidize three tankers worth of LNG each winter for the next 30 years before we exceeded the cost of constructing a $5.5 billion pipeline. Not a long-term solution, but a viable bridge for the few years it will take for renewable, distributed generation and battery storage to mature enough to serve the region’s grid-scale, base-load power demands.

Then there are the leaks. A recent study by the Home Energy Efficiency Team called attention to the widespread gas leaks throughout the Commonwealth—20,000 by their count, many decades old. An Eversource spokesman responded by saying “utilities have allowed those leaks to seep indefinitely because they didn’t see them as an imminent threat.”

Staring down the barrel of an eminent domain land taking to build this export pipeline, New England homeowners and ratepayers see every last one of these leaks as an imminent threat.  A 2013 study by Shanna Cleveland of the Conservation Law Foundation estimated that 8-12 billion cubic  feet of natural gas was lost to leaks in Massachusetts alone in 2010. Ironically, this is also about 1 percent of New England’s annual demand, or enough gas to cover the winter peaking problem.

Yet Marcy Reed, president of National Grid, has the audacity to assert the “inconvenient truth” that we need not one, but two, new pipelines to meet our growing electricity demand, a demand that, by ISO New England’s own projections, has flattened due to the successes of energy efficiency and demand response programs.

Clearly we cannot count on the credentialed stakeholders alone, such as ISO New England and National Grid, to advance a strategic energy policy that balances demand against the impact to our homes, health, and the environment. The subject of need deserves to be deliberated in a transparent and quantitative manner, with the direct participation of informed ratepayers who understand the personal cost of this project.

Meet the Author
FERC needs to convene a formal public hearing specifically dedicated to an assessment of pipeline need, one in which the “NO BUILD” option is also on the table.

Vince Premus is a Massachusetts resident and member of Stop the Northeast Energy Direct (StopNED), a coalition of concerned citizens and utility ratepayers opposed to Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct pipeline proposal.

  • MarkinArl

    Oh, so shutting down the two coal fired electric plants in Massachusetts was a 1 percent problem too, yet it was deemed necessary by environmentalists. The Salem plant in particular only got fired up for peak demand periods. So what is it, 1% too much for using coal AND not enough for more gas pipeline supply?

  • NortheasternEE

    State and regional mandates for renewable energy are forcing the early retirement of coal and nuclear. Renewables (wind and solar ) are useless in addressing peak demand. It’s madness to address the need for renewable energy with skyrocketing rates for Canadian hydro and natural gas.
    Stop the madness and keep nuclear and coal on line until renewables prove themselves. Do not believe that new pipelines and high voltage lines at ratepayer expense will lower rates. It defies common sense.
    We are going to be overly dependent on natural gas. with skyrocketing electric rates , and little to no carbon avoidance.
    Face it. We will need coal and nuclear for the foreseeable future!

  • Pat Brady Martin

    Excellent article! This is the definitive argument for why we do NOT need Kinder Morgan’s
    pipeline. Electricity generation consumes 1 bcf/day for all of New
    England to produce more than 50% of our electricity. So, why do we need
    to nearly triple that amount to lower electricity prices? Adding an
    additional 1 bcf/day would destroy fuel diversity and make us 100%
    dependent on fracked gas for electricity generation. So why add 2.3
    bcf/day? The numbers don’t make sense unless you are planning for
    export. Which, of course, is just what they are planning. ALL at
    ratepayer expense and risk, of course.

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  • Mhmjjj2012

    Vince Premus should be submitting guest editorials like this to all newspapers in New England…including The Sun.

  • Doug

    Good afternoon. In the interests of full disclosure, I work for a company that sells and markets equipment to the natural gas industry. I’m biased. But then again, so is the author who appears to be a “not in my backyarder”. It is my opinion that the premise of his argument is faulty. First of all, where is this 1% number coming from? Please cite your source. It doesn’t make sense to me. A “design day” for New England is based on -10 degrees F average for a 24 hour period (which varies by region and state). During a period such as that, the consumption during that period for New England and New York (including NYC) is 12BCF per day. Peaking typically kicks in around 10 degrees F for a 24 hour period – so think about how many of those days we had last year. That means any day that ranges in temp between 0 and 20 or thereabouts. Based on this, I believe your math is off base. Maybe I’m wrong but I feel comfortable saying that I’m closer to the truth than what is written above.

    Second of all, the amount of “leaks” that you’ve identified is far too high be even close to reality. My assumption is that you’ve heard a number for “lost and unaccounted for” gas and assumed, incorrectly, that it is attributable to leaks. If that is the case, it is unfortunately incorrect. Lost and unaccounted for gas is typically the result of innate inaccuracies in measurement of gas. Sometimes, due to routine service and maintenance, large pipeline companies allow organizations with interconnects on their lines to “bypass” the metering systems so that the transfer stations can be worked on. That gas isn’t measured, and therefore logged as lost and unaccounted for. In other examples, many of the instruments in gas measuring and regulating utilize gas in their pneumatic systems which operate valves and regulators and other complex instruments. That gas is bled into the atmosphere in such minute quantities that it’s not harmful and not dangerous. There are other examples, where a system can become overpressured and gas is intentionally bled from an overpressure protection valve so that no damage is done to the pipes. There are other reasons, but these are a few. Needless to say, there are not widespread leaks like you allege. Gas is basically cash to pipeline companies. Every fraction of gas that leaks is lost profit. They’re not interested in lost profit – if there is a leak, they will fix it quick, fast, and in a hurry.

    Next, it seems that there have been many assumptions made that don’t seem to be based in anything other than speculation. The reality is, the Northeast is the highest consumer of natural gas in the United States and has the lowest capacity comparative to any other consuming area. We need more gas. It’s not a speculative statement based on bending of the truth. It is a fact. When demand is at it’s highest, the Northeast cannot meet the demand we have through pipeline capacity alone because the cost is so high at peak demand. To offset we use LNG plants. If there were greater capacity, those costs go down.

    Further, the idea that trucking in LNG is somehow going to get us through peaking is not realistic. First of all, LNG needs to be kept at -260 degrees F at atmospheric pressure. Under greater pressure, the temperature can be higher but in any case very expensive equipment is required to manage that. There is also boil off of LNG – it is constant and requires systems to manage it or to burn off the boil off gas that does not stay liquefied. Nevermind that trucking anything on the road is inherently FAR more dangerous than enclosing it in a solid, welded pipe and burying it 36-48″ below the surface of the earth, and then protecting 25′ on either side of it as a permanent right of way that in less than 10 years no one will even remember has the gas beneath it that keeps their heating and electricity costs in check.

    And lastly, I hate to burst your bubble but “renewables” make up about 5-6% of our total energy production today. The Energy Information Authority (EIA) projects that 30 years from today the combination of nuclear and renewables will be no more than 10-11%. Today, the balance of energy is divided between gas (25%), coal (30%), and oil (40%). The EIA projects that over the next 30 years, oil will diminish (30%), gas will increase (30-35%) and coal will diminish (25%) and renewables will make up the difference. Take that for what you will, but that means that the Federal goverment, regardless of what the President may be telling us, is not putting much stock in renewables. And you shouldn’t either. They’re incredibly expensive and very inefficient. Wind and solar farms for example, turn energy about 40% of the time depending on the season but it’s unpredictable. Maybe batteries would help us store it, but what will we do with all the spent batteries? Putting them in landfills is not carbon neutral.

    I won’t continue my rant any longer but I wanted to point out some of what I view are inaccurate assumptions in this op-ed. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I feel as though this one is based on limited information and lots of assumptions that just aren’t true. I’m happy to discuss this further with anyone who is interested in doing it in a respectful way. I have no interest in just arguing for the sake of it – an intellectual discussion is another story entirely.