The long-discussed, hotly debated Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. proposal is now in the hands of federal regulators for an expected year-long review before a decision is made on whether to approve it.
There were no changes in the pipeline's proposed route through seven Berkshire County communities.
Kinder Morgan, the parent company, filed its formal application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Friday, describing the $3.3 billion expansion from Wright, N.Y., to Dracut as vital to meet the New England region's future energy needs.
"The Northeast Energy Direct Project is a transformative project for the northeast United States," said company executive Kimberly S. Watson in a prepared statement.
The company is asking for FERC approval of the project before the end of 2016 so construction can begin in January 2017, with the pipeline in service on Nov. 1, 2018. That's the same timeline it has been outlining during the past year of preliminary filings.
"Despite being just a few hundred miles from the most abundant and low-cost natural gas production area in the country, consumers in the Northeast pay some of the highest natural gas and electricity rates in the continental United States," said Watson, the president of Kinder Morgan's East Region Natural Gas Pipelines.
Watson emphasized Kinder Morgan's major selling point for the project.
"These higher prices are due, in large part, to natural gas pipeline infrastructure that is insufficient to meet the winter heating demand of local distribution companies and electric generators."
If approved, the 30-inch diameter pipeline would enter Massachusetts from Stephentown, N.Y., passing through sections of Hancock, Cheshire, Lanesborough, Dalton, Hinsdale, Peru and Windsor before exiting to Franklin and Hampshire counties and southern New Hampshire before re-entering the state north of Lowell.
Opposition has been widespread along the route in nearby Columbia County, N.Y., Berkshire County and points east. In Windsor, where a 41,000 horsepower industrial compressor station would help propel the high-pressure natural gas through the pipeline, residents and town officials have been especially vocal in their concerns about the project.
While the Kinder Morgan board of directors has approved the $3.3 billion investment for the pipeline's "market path," it has yet to act on an additional $1.7 billion for the "supply path."
The market path is a 188-mile pipeline from upstate New York to Dracut, plus loops and offshoots in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut, as well as construction of six new compressor stations and 27 new or modified meter and regulator stations.
The supply path includes 174 miles from northern Pennsylvania to Wright, N.Y., 40 miles west of Schenectady, as well as loops in two Pennsylvania counties. It also involves three new compressor stations, one modified station and two new meter stations.
"New England has insufficient natural gas pipeline capacity serving the region," Watson stated. "In order to meet demand during the past two winters, New England's electric generators have had to rely on high-priced natural gas, expensive imported LNG and costly fuel oil purchased on the spot market."
The proposed pipeline "will ease natural gas capacity constraints and stands to provide significant benefits to energy consumers in the region in the form of lower natural gas and electricity prices in coming years," she stated.
The company's official filing comes on the heels of a study released by state Attorney General Maura Healey that found no need for additional pipelines in the region over the next 15 years.
Watson cited the 2013-14 "polar vortex" winter, contending that if the Northeast Energy Direct project had been in service then, New England businesses and residents would have saved $3.7 billion in wholesale gas and electricity price spikes on 86 days of that season.
She noted that in 2000, about 15 percent of the region's power was supplied by natural gas; currently, the total approaches 50 percent.
Tennessee Gas has signed agreements to distribute the additional natural gas with seven companies, including Berkshire Gas Co. and National Grid, representing close to half of the 1.3 billion daily cubic feet of gas to be piped along the route.
The company expressed confidence that it will gain additional distributors in five of the six New England states (excluding Vermont).
Tennessee Gas also is continuing negotiations with other, unspecified potential project shippers, the announcement stated.