Our Opinion: Pipeline companies can pay their own costs

The state Legislature is poised to do right by electricity ratepayers, we who might otherwise become the unwitting underwriters to the construction of gas pipelines. About two-thirds of the Legislature has signed on to letters calling for passage of legislation to impose a permanent prohibition on utility companies making electric ratepayers help finance the construction of gas pipelines and to shake up the way the Department of Public Utilities considers gas pipeline financing (Eagle, November 3).

The bill addresses a number of issues that came up during Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company's controversial and ultimately abandoned expansion project through the Berkshires to the eastern end of the state. Those include the company's stated hope to foist construction and expansion costs onto consumers — and to do so, it turns out, with the DPU's blessings. In October 2015, the DPU concluded that it had the authority under existing law to approve long-term contracts by utilities like Eversource and National Grid for the purchase of natural gas capacity that would allow for the cost of pipeline construction to be passed on to ratepayers.

The 125 lawmakers who signed the letters are asking the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy to quickly advance a series of bills in the House and Senate that would prohibit utilities from turning to ratepayers to finance interstate gas pipelines, and legislation that would codify a Supreme Judicial Court ruling last year that declared so-called pipeline taxes illegal. The court ruled that the DPU must regulate electric and gas utilities separately, and found that imposing a tariff on electric ratepayers to subsidize the construction of a new pipeline would contradict the intent of the Legislature in the nearly two-decades-old utility deregulation law. The latter bill also includes rigorous reforms concerning the DPU's handling of gas infrastructure proceedings. The bill would require the DPU to grant full intervenor status to ratepayer municipalities, legislators representing ratepayer communities and groups of 10 or more ratepayers.

DPU has proven to be far too cozy with companies like Tennessee Gas and its parent company, Kinder-Morgan. It has failed to consider the burdens that those companies would place on communities and the ratepayers, both individuals and businesses, within them. It is obvious that by getting what amounts to public financing, the companies are lowering the risk of their decisions to build pipelines. Ratepayers shouldn't be saddled with the role of safety net when multi-million dollar corporations pursue risky ventures to make more money.

We join with legislators in calling for swift passage of legislation that would address this obvious and unfair regulatory failings.


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