Berkshire businesses oppose 'pipeline tax'

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PHOTO GALLERY | Berkshire businesses join effort protesting 'pipeline tax' 

DALTON — Environmental activists from three separate organizations gathered at Holiday Brook Farm on Tuesday to express their opposition to Gov. Charlie Baker's support of new gas infrastructure.

Jane Winn, the executive director of the Pittsfield-based Berkshire Environmental Action Team, called on the governor to drop his plan to place a "pipeline tax" on every state electric ratepayer.

'"BEAT sees the pipeline tax as a way to shift the cost and risk of building pipelines from the big gas companies onto the ratepayers, while all the potential profits from selling that fracked natural gas overseas will go back to the heads of the big gas companies," Winn said.

On Tuesday, BEAT, and the two other organizations, Mass Power Forward and 350Mass Berkshire, presented a list of over 500 small business owners statewide who are asking the governor to "withdraw his support of new and expanded gas infrastructure.

"He must keep our state moving toward a path of competitive clean energy like appropriately sited wind and solar," the petition read.

A poster containing the names of those businesses was held up at Tuesday's news conference, one of three that took place across the state. It includes the names of 22 Berkshire County-based firms, including five from Dalton, three each from Lee and West Stockbridge, and two from both Adams and Pittsfield. One of the Dalton businesses is Holiday Brook Farm.

Winn said the group is planning to collect more signatures before presenting the document to the governor's office.

According to the Boston Globe, Baker has made energy a "top priority" in his second year as governor but doesn't want ratepayers to pay too much of the tab. During his State of the Commonwealth address in January, Baker urged support for the solar industry but not at prices "two to three times more than every other option," The Globe reported.

The governor did not mention natural gas during his address, but the state Department of Public Utilities has allowed both Eversource Energy and National Grid to propose charges for electric customers that would finance new gas pipelines. Protesters at the address referenced the governor's support for a "secret pipeline tax," according to The Globe.

According to information that was presented at Tuesday's meeting, a report by Synapse Energy Economics that was issued last month found the costs of the proposed Access Northeast pipeline that would transport fracked gas into the state would cost $6.6 million, more than the $3.2 million that the project's sponsors claim,

On Tuesday, Winn said adding more fracked natural gas pipelines will end up costing electric ratepayers, including businesses, "more not less."

In January, Eversource proposed a rate increase that could see the electric bills for its Western Massachusetts customers increase by about 10 percent next year. The proposal has been opposed by Attorney General Maura Healey's office, and state Sen. Adams Hinds, who has referred to it as an "absolute potential killer." The DPU will hold a public hearing on the proposed rate increase on April 10 at the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield.

On Tuesday, Christopher Derby Kilfoyle, the president of Berkshire Photovoltaic Services, said Eversource has proposed a "radical change in how electric rates are charged.

"They're not a friend of solar," he said.

Reach Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224.


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