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.