Mass Power Forward energy coalition launches advocacy effort in Berkshires

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PITTSFIELD — Mass Power Forward, a new statewide energy coalition, launched its local efforts in the city on Wednesday, advocating clean energy and conservation projects and opposing new fossil fuel infrastructure.

A Pittsfield press conference outside Kinder Morgan's offices at 137 North St. was one of five similar events the group hosted around Massachusetts on Wednesday. Others occurred in Boston, Fall River, Holyoke, West Peabody and Weymouth.

Local speakers — environmentalists, business owners and faith leaders — made a prime target of Kinder Morgan's $3.3 billion proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline through New York and the Berkshires on the way to Dracut.

According to Christopher Derby Kilfoyle, owner of Berkshire Photovoltaic Services, gas companies use "vague," exaggerated figures to smear solar companies for receiving subsidies, while the proposed pipeline and gas line leak fixes promise to cost ratepayers $8 billion.

"And you can take that to the bank," Kilfoyle said. "Massachusetts ratepayers shouldn't be paying for this pipeline at all, because the technology will soon be obsolete, folks. Because of solar with storage technologies, we are on the cusp of an energy revolution that's going to change the way the grid operates."

He added, "This is a last-ditch effort of fossil fuel companies."

Gas companies also use job creation as a key point of advocacy for projects like NED.

But another speaker, Jane Winn of Berkshire Environmental Action Team, said Massachusetts' clean energy sector is creating orders of magnitude more jobs — stable, rather than temporary, ones.

More than 6,000 firms — Kilfoyle's among them — have created more than 88,000 jobs, making "the clean energy sector now one of our fastest growing sectors of the Massachusetts economy," Winn said. A key plank of Mass Power Forward is to see this sector enjoy ever-more growth.

The need for NED evaporates, Winn said, when one takes into account continued clean energy generation, gas leak fixes, weatherization/energy efficiency measures and New England's declining electricity usage.

Winn also went after Berkshire Gas Co. for lackluster efforts to reduce gas use — only saving 0.7 percent per year in customer usage.

"That's pathetic," Winn said. "Berkshire Gas could do much better. This should be the low-hanging fruit."

She added, "The choices we make this year are ones we'll have to live with for decades to come. We can chain ourselves to fracked gas, and have our heating and electric costs go up and down with the price of fuel, sending those dollars out of state, continuing to spew carbon into the air. Or, we can invest in clean energy that has no fuel cost, keeps us on track to reduce climate change and pollution, keeps our energy dollars local, and creates local, full-time, permanent jobs."

Pulled together by 350 Massachusetts, Mass Power Forward comprises 90-plus organizations such as Massachusetts Sierra Club, Better Future Project, Boston Climate Action Network, Climate Action Business Association and the Environmental League of Massachusetts, among others.

Local faith leaders also spoke — the Rev. Joseph Farnes of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church and the Rev. Janet W. Zimmerman of Grace Church in Great Barrington.

Echoing Pope Francis, both church leaders said climate change disproportionately impacts the poor globally.

"The Earth is a common good; it belongs to all of us and is meant for all of us," Zimmerman said. "We're connected to this precious Earth and dependent on its goodness for our very life. We know we have failed to cherish and care for it, and as a result many suffer, in particular those who are most vulnerable."

She added, "We can and we must respond to this critical situation."

Kinder Morgan, on the other hand, has argued the necessity of the pipeline, citing regional natural gas shortages that until recently were regularly cited by New England governors.

The company hopes to receive federal approval of its NED plans by November 2016 so it can begin construction a few months thereafter and place the pipeline into service by November 2018.

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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