On July 13, 2015 I filed H3690, An Act Relative to the Conveyance of an Easement in the Town of Sandisfield, Massachusetts.
This so-called Article 97 (referring to the section of the state’s constitution dealing with conservation lands) legislation would grant an easement and facilitate the construction of a 13.26 mile pipeline connecting existing pipelines in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York. This will increase the natural gas capacity to New England which will result in lower carbon emissions and help to reduce fuel costs regionally.
The parcel in question is owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, specifically the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). The DCR and the MA Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA) have vetted the proposal, while the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regulatory processes have also been followed. In addition, the Commonwealth’s MEPA Office applied the EOEA’s Article 97 Land Disposition Process to ensure no net loss of protected lands while determining a mitigation package.
In the interest of transparency, I want to be absolutely clear that though this is a bill that has been filed, it has not been voted upon. There were no backroom deals or dark of night filings. H3690 will be treated exactly the same as the thousands of other bills introduced in every legislative session. There will be a public hearing held by the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight where all sides will have an opportunity to be heard through their testimony. Following the hearing, the members of the committee will continue to study and then make a determination on the merits on how – or if – the legislation should be reported out.
My interest in the issues of energy costs and supply is something that has been a policy priority for much of my time in public service. Back in 2006, an LNG terminal was proposed for Outer Brewster Island in Hull, which I represent in the MA House. The relevant legislation was filed by Representative Brian Dempsey of Haverhill. Now Haverhill is not anywhere close to Hull, but Rep. Dempsey did not have any nefarious intent in filing the legislation. Instead, he wanted to start a conversation about our long term energy needs and how we are going to be able to foster economic growth while keeping utility prices affordable for the consumer. In the same way, I want to continue the conversation because we need both short and long term solutions. Energy is not a local, legislative district issue, but rather one facing us regionally and nationally.
New England already pays the highest electricity rates in the US outside of the state of Hawaii because it has no fossil fuels of its own and has to import all of its oil, gas and coal. A recent media report referenced an Associated Industries of Massachusetts study that showed that the cost of electricity was 39 percent higher for households and 79 percent higher for industrial customers than the national average. Earlier this year, the President of ISO New England commented on the need for more energy infrastructure, the fact that natural gas supplies have not kept pace with the number of gas fired power plants and that this supply situation - which affects peak demand during winter months - requires additional pipeline capacity. Independent System Operator (ISO) New England is the federally-regulated, independent organization which administers wholesale energy markets and works to ensure grid reliability in the New England states. Just this past April, the Governors of the 6 New England states reiterated their commitment to finding regional solutions to the problem of high energy costs. http://www.nescoe.com/uploads/6_State_Joint_Statement_FINAL_4-22-15_12-3.36pm_w-sealsf.pdf. The lack of adequate pipeline capacity was specifically highlighted.
A lack of increased pipeline infrastructure, coupled with the increased use of natural gas for power generation, in the last 15 years has resulted in pipeline constraints in the wintertime. As we remember all too well, the cold spells of recent winters have seen a jump in wholesale electricity prices due to a regional natural gas shortage.
Many of the region’s old coal plants have closed in recent years, making way for natural gas, which is cleaner than coal. In addition, even with the renewal of its license in 2012, the Pilgrim Nuclear Plant, will be shutting down in 2032. Pilgrim accounts for about 14% of the state’s total production of electricity. How do we begin to replace these gaps in our energy needs, particularly if every idea proposed is shunted aside? The alternative will be a future of rolling blackouts and even higher spikes in consumer prices. Based on the hundreds of calls and emails I receive every winter from people struggling to deal with the cost of their utility and heating bills, I can tell you my constituents are not in favor of either of these options. They want solutions and as their Representative it is my responsibility to pursue avenues that will help the consumer’s pocketbook.
I agree that it would be ideal if all our energy needs were met with solar, wind, hydro and other clean energies. However, this is not the reality as we speak today. Until we can reach the goal of getting our energy from predominantly clean sources, we have to be willing to look at every possible avenue to ensure our region has enough energy and that we avoid the blackouts and unaffordable electric rates that would devastate our economy.