Tennessee Gas Pipeline: Federal application leaves many questions unanswered

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If federal regulators approve Kinder Morgan's proposed, 412-mile Tennessee Gas Co. pipeline from Pennsylvania through central Berkshire to eastern Massachusetts, who will pay for it?

State Attorney General Maura Healey, releasing her study on the need for the Northeast Energy Direct project, asserted that "we do not need increased gas capacity to meet electric reliability needs, and electric ratepayers shouldn't foot the bill for additional pipelines."

But Kinder Morgan — whose formal application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was submitted two weeks ago for a review likely to take a year — has a very different position on who pays for what.

The company "is assuming the costs and financial risk for the construction of the NED Project," said spokesman Steve Crawford. Kinder Morgan expects a $3.3 billion investment for the "market path" segment of the pipeline from Wright, N.Y., to Dracut, north of Lowell.

But the company's board has yet to act on the remaining $1.7 billion "supply path" cost, which would route natural gas from the Marcellus shale fields of Pennsylvania to Wright, about 50 miles west of Albany.

"Because the need is so great in New England, almost half of the natural gas capacity is already under contract to local gas utilities," Crawford added in an e-mail statement. "Once that gas starts flowing, business and residential customer bills will include a delivery charge, as they do now."

But will that delivery charge be higher, lower or the same as it is now?

"Once the pipeline is complete, gas and electric consumers will save money on their energy bills because the added supply will bring down their cost," Crawford said. "The commonwealth and electric utilities are hoping to allow electric generators to sign long-term contracts for natural gas, rather than requiring them to buy gas on the volatile spot market, which results in higher prices for their customers."

However, a coalition of 15 towns along 80 miles of the pipeline route in southern New Hampshire warns that the pipeline "will add significant costs to tens of thousands of residents and businesses, despite company claims to the contrary," according to Tad Putney, town administrator of Brookline, N.H.

"Based on recent filings with the Public Utilities Commission, the average customer of Liberty Utilities will incur a cost of about $600 per year — for 20 years — should the Kinder Morgan pipeline be approved," said Putney, a member of the NH Municipal Pipeline Coalition. Liberty's investment in the project, $106 million over two decades, would be passed on to its 90,000 ratepayers, he added.

Last August, the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities approved 20-year contracts for Berkshire Gas, National Grid and Columbia Gas, based in Springfield, to purchase supplies from the new pipeline, if and when it is approved and built.

Several opposition groups have filed lawsuits against the DPU in the state's highest court, seeking to overturn the approvals.

Meanwhile, Nathaniel Karns, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, and leaders of five other regional councils, have signed a letter to federal regulators contending that the Kinder Morgan application is incomplete.

The letter states that the application is not specific enough about the location of the pipeline route and that "we have yet to see an adequate demonstration of need for the project."

Opponents, including Massachusetts PipeLine Awareness Network (MassPLAN), contend that if the pipeline is built, only half of the estimated, nearly 3,000 construction jobs would go to local workers. Kinder Morgan's application confirms that, based on the company's contention that the project requires a highly skilled work force and "not all of the personnel required typically can be found or are available locally or live near major projects."

"Therefore, personnel must be sourced from outside the immediate area by construction companies and union shops for the crafts needed," the company states. "If workers with appropriate skills and work credentials are available locally, they will receive consideration."

While the 3,000 estimate is based on a year-round average, summer season peak construction periods are expected to require nearly 7,000 employees in 2017 and 2018, the construction years Kinder Morgan hopes for if federal regulators approve the project by this time next year.

After construction, there would be 24 permanent jobs along the route's compressor stations, including the one planned in Windsor that has aroused vocal opposition by town leaders and many residents.

MassPLAN and other opponents have taken issue with Kinder Morgan's proposed work schedule calling for six days a week, 10 hours a day during construction. They claim that would risk "a huge spike in pipeline failures."

But the company responded that the schedule is "standard for pipeline construction, but this does not mean that individuals' safety and correct pipeline construction methods are disregarded."

While the main application filed with FERC is about 6,000 pages, supplementary material involving environmental studies add another 13,000, and there are nearly 1,000 pages of maps.

According to studies compiled by MassPLAN director Kathryn Eiseman, the application states that the construction and operation of the pipeline will affect about 3,151 acres of agricultural land. More than 320 acres of "sensitive wildlife habitat" would be impacted, according to the application.

Eiseman contends that the company may have "vastly underestimated" the amount of blasting that the project would require, given the 66 miles of bedrock along the main route and offshoots in Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut.

The Tennessee Gas Pipeline route would pass through parts of Hancock, Cheshire, Lanesborough, Dalton, Hinsdale, Peru and Windsor after entering Berkshire County from Stephentown, N.Y. It exits into Franklin and Hampshire counties before looping northward into southern New Hampshire before re-entering Massachusetts for the existing terminal in Dracut, north of Lowell.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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