Kulik’s pipeline petition to be intervenor on Berkshire Gas contract rejected

 

By RICHIE DAVIS
Recorder Staff
Monday, June 1, 2015
(Published in print: Tuesday, June 2, 2015)

The state Department of Public Utilities has rejected petitions by Rep. Stephen Kulik and two organizations opposing the Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s planned project through Franklin County in a case involving Berkshire Gas Co.’s proposed contract to buy gas from the pipeline.

Both intervening groups say they will appeal the hearing officers’ decision to the full DPU.

The DPU, while granting “limited intervenor” status to Kulik, Pipeline Awareness Network for the Northeast (PLAN) and Northeast Energy Solutions (NEES), rejected their petitions granting them full status, meaning they can’t require legal depositions to seek documents, testimony and other undisclosed evidence from Berkshire Gas. Limited intervenor status only allows them to receive correspondence, including discovery requests by full intervenors as well as responses, and to attend all conferences and hearings.

A hearing on the DPU case is scheduled for June 11 at 7 p.m. in Greenfield Middle School, because of a specific request by Sen. Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst.

Kulik, D-Worthington, and PLAN had filed jointly in the petition by Berkshire Gas to enter into an agreement with Tennessee Gas to buy up to 36,000 dekatherms per day from its proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline. NEES is a legal consortium of environmental groups including Franklin Land Trust and Trustees of Reservations.

If approved by federal regulators, the pipeline would enter Franklin County from Plainfield and include Ashfield, Conway, Shelburne, Deerfield, Montague, Erving, Northfield and Warwick along its route.

The DPU, which allowed the full intervention request of the Conservation Law Foundation and Portland Natural Gas Transmission System, rejected the Kulik-PLAN and NEES applications in its combined decision Friday, saying that neither have shown they are “substantially and specifically affected by this proceeding.”

“PLAN states that it and Rep. Kulik have significant interests in rate and cost implications, capacity choice and protecting the property rights of its landowner members,” writes Hearing Officer Laurie Ellen Weisman in the ruling. “But those interests are not sufficient to establish that they are substantially and specifically affected by this proceeding and have a right to intervene as full participants, and the property rights issues are outside the scope of this proceeding.”

Bowing to arguments made by Berkshire Gas attorneys, she reasons that the attorney general already represents ratepayers’ interests of PLAN members.

In the case of NEES, Weisman writes the “significant” interest it claims in prices and rates and efficient energy infrastructure and the impact the DPU filing will have on Tennessee Gas’s application before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission aren’t enough to establish the group’s right to fully intervene. The attorney general, Department of Energy Resources and Conservation Law Foundation can adequately represent its interests on rates and energy-efficient infrastructure, she rules.

Members of PLAN also include Reps. Paul Mark, D-Peru, Ellen Story, D-Amherst, and John Scibak, D-South Hadley, as well as the towns of Greenfield and Montague and “directly impacted landowners and ratepayers of Berkshire Gas,” according to the pipeline opposition group. The DPU previously denied its petitions in the Columbia Gas and National Grid proceedings concerning contracts with Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.

“It’s a strange decision that really doesn’t make any sense to me,” said Kulik. “I represent customers of Berkshire Gas, and many thousands of my constituents will be affected by the pipeline. And the other parties, like Greenfield and Montague, should have significant standing to intervene. We believe there are perspectives that are broader than just what the attorney general will be presenting, and that the DPU should go out of its way to be hearing as many perspectives as possible.”

Kathryn Eiseman, representing PLAN, responded, “It defies logic to conclude that Berkshire Gas’ ratepayers, regardless of their views and diverse interests, all must speak only through the voice of the attorney general, and that people are not ‘substantially and specifically affected’ when they may end up with a high pressure pipeline through their farms or outside their bedroom windows based on the outcome of these proceedings. These agreements between (Tennessee Gas) and gas companies such as Berkshire Gas form the foundation of the … pipeline project. The more of these contracts that receive state approval, the more likely it is that FERC will look favorably upon the pipeline project.”

You can reach Richie Davis at:

rdavis@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269