Neal, Kennedy, local delegation talk energy in Western Massachusetts

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LEE >> Onyx Speciality Papers is in the midst of hiring 25 new employees — and it could bring on an additional 70 workers if it could get its energy costs under control.

U.S. Rep Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, made that statement Monday morning following a tour of the company's Willow Mill with U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, who is a member of the House energy and commerce committee.

Accompanied by state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, and state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, the two congressman visited Onyx to highlight the energy pricing issue which Neal said is affecting the region's growth.

Their visit to Lee was part of a daylong swing through Western Massachusetts that included three stops in the Springfield area.

"The capacity points aren't just affecting Berkshire County but my district back in eastern Massachusetts and others in the New England region," said Kennedy, a Democrat, who is in his second term serving the state's 4th District.

"We have to try and outline a strategy to take the steps we need to make in order to get a handle on the electric rates that are having a high impact on good local businesses that would be expanding at an even greater rate, but are facing prohibitive costs because the energy markets aren't functioning the way they should be because of a lack of capacity that is driving up those costs, and a coherent regional strategy to come up with a long term policy," Kennedy said.

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Kennedy said Kinder Morgan's proposed natural gas pipeline through Berkshire County could be part of the solution to lower the region's high energy costs. But he said the controversial proposal should be viewed within the context of other pipeline initiatives, like a plan to pipe hydroelectric power to Massachusetts from the Canadian province of Quebec.

"Whether that comes from Maine or New Hampshire or Vermont or New York," Kennedy said, "those are all options that we need to look at it as well."

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Neal said Kinder Morgan's pipeline proposal, which would run through seven Berkshire towns, wouldn't be part of the solution the way it is currently proposed.

When asked what could be done to make the proposal acceptable to him, Neal said that would be up to "local residents to figure out." He said Kinder Morgan has not handled the situation well.

"This issue has been handled by Kinder Morgan as badly as any issue that I remember in my time," Neal said. "Part of it is not to surprise people. They've consistently subjected the citizenry to these surprises, they're slow on answers, and much of the controversy that they find themselves in is one that they've created."

However, local residents need to keep and open mind when it comes to solving the region's energy issues, Neal said.

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"There are some who will say in one breath that they are entirely in favor of green energy, but they don't want a wind tunnel near them," Neal said. "There's a great deal of inconsistency on this."

Neal and Downing said they would be in favor of an "integrated approach" involving several forms of energy to reduce costs and stimulate growth.

"Under the current regulatory framework that we have you can barely have a conversation between federal regulators, state regulators and local regulators across the board," Downing said. "That has consequences for a company like Onyx."

Onyx was formed in December 2009 when company president Patricia Begrowicz and her business partner Christopher Matthews purchased the assets of MeadWestVaco's specialty paper division. It is the town of Lee's only remaining paper mill.

Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.


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