After Tennessee Gas Pipeline project's demise, Mass. focus shifts to green energy


Energy giant Kinder Morgan's final decision to terminate the 412-mile Tennessee Gas Co. pipeline is getting an enthusiastic reception from state Attorney General Maura Healey, and several Massachusetts lawmakers who opposed the $5 billion project.

"Kinder Morgan's Northeast Energy Direct pipeline was too big and too costly for Massachusetts ratepayers," stated Healey spokeswoman Chloe Gotsis in an e-mail to The Eagle. "Our office continues to argue that electric ratepayers should not foot the bill for natural gas pipelines."

In a reference to energy legislation on the front burner on Beacon Hill, the attorney general urged that "Massachusetts should continue to refocus its energy future on where it needs to be by investing in clean and cost-effective energy resources."

Kinder Morgan, on behalf of its affiliate Tennessee Gas, notified federal regulators on Monday that it would withdraw its formal application to build the pipeline from Wright, N.Y., west of Schenectady, to the Dracut terminal near Lowell. The route affected seven central Berkshire towns before continuing through Plainfield, eight Pioneer Valley towns and 18 southern New Hampshire communities.

The death of the project "allows us to refocus our debate in the Legislature during the next 75 days or so on our green energy future, and replacing a little over 9,000 megawatts of energy coming offline from oil and coal-fired plants with as much renewable energy as possible," said state Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst in a statement.

State Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, described Kinder Morgan's decision as "very good news for Western Massachusetts and the whole commonwealth. The project presented many environmental, public safety and financial challenges to the region." He also credited "enormous public engagement and opposition" for contributing to the project's demise.

Kulik remains concerned about a moratorium imposed on new hookups in Franklin and Hampshire counties by Berkshire Gas Co., which continues to service new and existing customers in Berkshire County.

Berkshire Gas had signed on to distribute gas piped by the Kinder Morgan project and its parent company had pledged to invest $80 million in the proposed line.

"While we don't expect a quick solution, we are committed to pursuing any and all practical options," a Berkshire Gas spokesman stated.

"Berkshire Gas is actively engaged in a thorough vetting, and in many instances revetting, of any and all alternatives that may allow us to provide additional volumes of natural gas in Franklin and Hampshire counties at some future point," the company added. "Until a practical solution can be identified however, the moratorium will remain in effect."

Meanwhile, the state House is working on energy legislation without a surcharge for electricity ratepayers to help finance new pipelines. Kinder Morgan had cited the lack of the pass-along charge as a factor in its termination of the NED project, along with adverse economic conditions and insufficient demand among natural gas distributors in the region.

But passing the legislation in the House and Senate before formal sessions end July 31 is expected to be difficult because there's limited agreement among lawmakers, energy industry advocates and environmental groups on the best way to proceed.

Gov. Charlie Baker voiced concern that "the clock is ticking on the session." He also called the House package "a very strong bill that's built around the idea of diversifying our energy sources and incorporating big slugs of hydro and wind into our portfolio here in Massachusetts and across New England, and I think that's a good thing."

But State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, said the House proposal falls short of the comprehensive energy policy the state needs.

"It's a couple of the core pieces I think everyone agrees ought to be a part of a comprehensive energy bill, but I think it's by no means complete or comprehensive," he told State House News Service. "It's an offshore wind and hydro bill, both of which are necessary, but I don't think taken together are sufficient to meet our needs."

Downing anticipates that members of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee he co-chairs will most likely either vote against the bill or reserve their right to object as it moves out of committee.

"If the goal is to address climate and cost, then you can't put forward a bill that omits building on the progress we've made on energy efficiency," Downing said.

Information from State House News Service, the Daily Hampshire Gazette and the Greenfield Recorder was included in this report.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.

This article was updated on May 25, 2016, to correct the name of Attorney General Maura Healey,


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