By Nick Rogers
Special to The Eagle
POSTED: 06/17/2015 07:34:01 PM EDT
GREENFIELD — Several hundred residents of Berkshire, Hampshire and Franklin counties and state and municipal officials attended the second state Department of Public Utilities hearing on a proposed contract between Berkshire Gas Co. and Kinder Morgan affiliate Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., which prompted critical comment.
While the vast majority of those in attendance were staunchly opposed to the construction of the pipeline, it also became apparent at the meeting in Greenfield that the DPU is under scrutiny for perceived compliance or collusion with Berkshire Gas and Kinder Morgan.
Berkshire Gas, along with Columbia Gas Co. and National Grid, are seeking DPU approval to purchase natural gas carried through the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline, extending from New York state across Massachusetts to Dracut.
Berkshire Gas has said it will not accept new customers or expand natural gas delivery services to existing customers until the pipeline has been completed — estimated at some three and a half years from now if Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permits are obtained.
State Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, said he and his constituents were “puzzled and concerned that the DPU appears to be bending over backward to accommodate the gas companies’ and Kinder Morgan’s schedules.”
Kulik and the Pipe-Line Awareness Network were recently denied full intervener status by DPU hearing officer Laurie Weisman on the grounds they are not “substantially and significantly affected by this proceeding,” although Kulik represents six towns on the proposed pipeline route and four towns served by Berkshire Gas.
The DPU also drew criticism for denying the Conservation Law Foundation’s request for an additional week to prepare testimony.
Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, said that in New York people have already started moving away from areas near gas pipelines and compressor stations, and expressed concern that the same thing would happen to rural towns in Western Massachusetts should the pipeline be built.
Windsor and Northfield, both within Mark’s district, are expected to host the two largest gas compressor stations in the state. Neither is currently scheduled to receive gas from the pipeline.
Only one elected official, Greenfield Town Councilor Isaac Mass, spoke in favor of the deal, hoping that an increased supply of natural gas would bring more manufacturing jobs to the region.
Members of the Laborers International Union of North America Local 596 formed the only sizeable pro-pipeline contingent at the hearing. Union member and Charlemont resident Chelsea Furlon said of the project, “this is our Big Dig.”
However, Amherst resident Tim Holcomb was enthusiastically applauded by union members when he declared that as a ratepayer he would “pay a premium” to keep Massachusetts workers employed on renewable projects, “rather than working for a Spanish company,” referring to Spanish-based Iberdrola, which is in the process of purchasing Berkshire Gas’ holding company.
Many who spoke accused Berkshire Gas of doing too little to explore alternative sources of energy. Some asserted that repairing leaks in the existing gas infrastructure would go a long way toward meeting energy demand.
Rudy and Natalie Perkins of Amherst suggested that Berkshire Gas expand its liquefied natural gas storage capacity to enable it to meet seasonal energy demands, a solution to energy shortages that Berkshire Gas itself proposed in the past.
Greenfield Town Councilor Hillary Hoffman said she wanted Berkshire Gas to “pursue alternatives, not issue ultimatums and surprise moratoriums.”
Many in attendance lived on or near the project path of the pipeline. Holly Lovelace of Northfield said that after being notified that a compressor station would be built some 1,500 feet from her property, her home was “effectively condemned.”
“We cannot refinance,” said Lovelace, “we cannot sell because no bank will approve a mortgage in the impact zone. Our homeowner’s insurance provider will keep us on until the compressor station is built.”
Lovelace said she will have to cash out her retirement account so that she and her husband can retain a lawyer to compel TGP to compensate them for their “now unsellable, and uninsurable home.”
The DPU also will hold an evidentiary hearing in Boston on June 24, during which expert testimony concerning the proposed gas purchase contract will be given by Berkshire Gas Co. and the office of the Attorney General.