Natural Gas Expansion Plan Loses Support in Mass.

A proposal by the six New England governors to expand regional natural gas infrastructure on the backs of ratepayers seems to be losing support in Massachusetts, according to an article in the Boston Business Journal.

“Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration has decided to put its support for this massive infrastructure investment on hold,” the Journal reported. When the newspaper requested a comment from the administration, Krista Selmi, a spokeswoman for Patrick’s energy staff, wrote, “Massachusetts remains committed to working as a region to solve New England’s most pressing energy challenges, including the need for additional clean energy resources such as renewables and large hydro and the associated transmission as well as natural gas capacity constraints. We must, however, continue to understand the region’s evolving needs as well as both the short and the long-term impacts these infrastructure investments will have. As such, Massachusetts is reviewing existing analysis on low demand and natural gas needs necessitating a delay in filing a pipeline related tariff with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.”

The governors, acting through the non-profit New England States Committee on Energy (NESCOE), had formulated a plan to seek permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to allow a tariff to cover the costs of natural gas pipeline expansion. The tariff would encourage pipeline operators to expand the regional natural gas infrastructure without putting shareholder money at risk, because ratepayers would ultimately foot the bill.

The Conservation Law Foundation and other groups had criticized the initiative for being cloaked in secrecy, while the New England Power Generators Association said that it would replace free market economics with government intervention.

Five of the six states had officially approved the plan this year, but Massachusetts scuttled the entire endeavor, at least for now, when the state Legislature declined to approve the plan proposed by Patrick last month. Maine Governor Paul LePage, an ardent advocate for natural gas expansion, criticized Patrick in a letter sent this week. “It has come to my attention that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has decided not to continue additional natural gas capacity for New England. This is a colossal mistake,” wrote Governor LePage. “New England needs additional natural gas capacity. Please join New England in increasing this critical infrastructure and reconsider your decision.

Even without the guaranteed ratepayer financing, several pipeline companies are developing plans to expand pipeline capacity into New England. In a recent presentation to the New England Conference of Public Utility Commissioners, Northeast Utilities listed five natural gas pipeline projects currently in development.

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