Gas hookup moratoriums are not good for any of us

We need to account for economic hardship of small business owners

IN A RECENT COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE op-ed, Kathryn Eiseman argued that moratoriums on gas hookup are a good thing. This demonstrated how short-sighted the opposition to natural gas supply expansion is in MassachusettsIt also fails to fully take into account the significant economic hardship to both the citizens and small businesses of our state  who will now be cut off from the most viable source of energy available.  

Eiseman’s view is that natural gas pipeline capacity constraints, resulting in energy companies deciding not to hook natural gas up to homes and businesses, isn’t a problem.  She concludes that it is “desirable” because moratoriums will help accelerate efforts to scale up renewable sources of energy. However, this will continue to force tens of thousands of businesses, and potentially millions of private citizens to either maintain their less efficient fossil-fuel heating systems or upgrade to comparatively expensive electric heat.  Clearly this is not “desirable.” 

Natural gas plays a critical role when it comes to cost, reliability and emissions reductions. It costs a fraction of what other sources of energy cost and is far cleaner than oil and coal.  Natural Gas remains the only sensible energy source right now that’s reliable 365 days a year.  For these reasons, we rely on natural gas for the majority of our electrical generation. 

Rather than starving homes and businesses of cleaner energy sources that have successfully reduced emissions in our power sector, we need sound energy policies that earnestly and transparently address emissions, safety, reliability and affordability. 

Eiseman didn’t address the Commonwealth’s current energy environment and how much natural gas contributes to our energy supply and emission goals. She assumed that renewables are currently ready to fill the energy gap. In reality they may not be ready to do so for decades.  

Certainly, our energy production is in a state of transition. It appears that up to onethird of our power plants will be going offline in the years to come—including Pilgrim nuclear power plant later this year—even as our demands for energy are sky rocketing. Capacity and storage limitations of wind and solar—as well as siting issues and various political and environmental roadblocks with hydroelectric proposals—are unreliable. At the same time, New England residents and business are burdened with one of the most expensive electricity rates in the continental United States.   

Collectively, these factors were all highlighted in Governor Baker’s recent Comprehensive Energy Plan, a serious, data-driven review of our energy challenges and opportunities.  The Governor’s report not only suggested we will fail to reach our 2020 emissions targets but it further outlined an energy future where power outages remain a distinct possibility without proper planning and preparation. A future of electrical brownouts and rolling blackouts is clearly not acceptable. 

This is not to say we can’t make significant progress by bringing all sides together. It is important to acknowledge that even though the transition period to greener alternatives is likely to take not years but decades, we can still make significant emissions reductions in the years to come.   

As Former Energy and Environmental Secretary Rick Sullivan stated in his companion article, “the problem is that we have allowed the discussion of our energy needs to migrate from the aspirational to the unrealistic.” 

 Instead of prematurely dismissing energy resources that can best meet demand at a lower cost, and with far less environmental impact than other fossil fuels, our Commonwealth would be best served by embracing an “all-of-the-above” approach to energy production that puts progress and impact before politics and ideology.  

Meet the Author
The time has come to move forward together.  

Tom Andrews is the secretary-treasurer of the Massachusetts and Northern New England Laborers’ District Council and a member of Laborers’ Local 596 in Holyoke.