By RICHIE DAVIS and TOM RELIHAN
Monday, August 31, 2015
(Published in print: Tuesday, September 1, 2015)
The state Department of Public Utilities on Monday approved long-term contracts for Berkshire Gas, Columbia Gas and National Grid to buy natural gas from the proposed Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s Northeast Energy Direct project.
The three 20-year contracts to buy gas from the nearly 420-mile pipeline planned to cross eight Franklin County towns are all contingent on completion of the nearly $5 billion project.
The decision is an expected disappointment to local pipeline opponents.
Had the state blocked the local gas retailers from buying fuel from the NED project, the project may have been less viable.
Berkshire Gas’s agreement will provide up to 36,000 dekatherms of natural gas per day of gas from the pipeline effective Nov. 1, 2018. Berkshire Gas and Columbia Gas have imposed moratoriums on accepting new customers or expanded service until the Northeast Energy Direct project is approved and in service.
In its order, the DPU ruled that Berkshire’s proposed agreement is consistent with both the company’s portfolio objectives and the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act, that it “compares favorably to the range of reasonable alternatives, and is therefore consistent with the public interest.”
The DPU authorized Berkshire Gas to execute the proposed agreements with a capacity commitment of at least 20,000 Dth/day to serve the company’s planning load; approximately 3,000 Dth/day for a large, special contract customer seeking to expand its current gas use; and at least 5,000 Dth/day to address the reverse migration of capacity-exempt customers — those who are currently receiving gas from competitive suppliers. The applications had come under severe criticism from the state attorney general’s office, as well as from state Reps. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, Paul Mark, D-Peru, and other legislators whose application for full intervenor status in the case was denied by the DPU. Intervenor status was also rejected for Pipeline Awareness Network for the Northeast and Northeast Energy Solutions, representing Franklin Land Trust and a statewide land-trust alliance, which challenge the need or appropriateness of a pipeline through mostly rural Franklin County.
All had called for the process to be halted, with the attorney general calling first for completion of four related DPU dockets, including Berkshire Gas’s long-range forecast and supply plan, from 2014-15 to 2018-19.
Katy Eiseman, president of the Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast, Inc., said of the DPU decision:
“Given the way these proceedings were conducted, these rulings were entirely predictable. We will be weighing our options and conferring with Representative Kulik and our legal counsel regarding next steps.”
Northeast Energy Solutions, a coalition of nonprofit environmental organizations and other stakeholders working to develop solutions to and educate the public about the region’s energy problems, that contributed testimony to the proceedings could not comment by press time Monday, but Barry Wanger, the organization’s president, said the group would issue a statement Tuesday once it has had time to read the order.
Berkshire Gas and the state Attorney General’s office did not return requests for comment before press time Monday.