Self-Determination is a Public Necessity

Adapted from comments submitted on November 21, 2014 to the Federal Energy Commission for MassPLAN.

Since May of this year, 41 New England municipalities have passed resolutions opposing Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct project (NED) and other new interstate gas pipelines.[1] Thirteen of these municipalities are not along the originally proposed NED route, but all are acting with a unity of purpose.  Many of these resolutions passed with unanimous or near-unanimous votes at town meetings, voted on by the community.  The direct democratic tradition of New England town meeting is alive and well, and this self-determination persists as part of the way of life and community identity in our region.

Thousands of people living in the vicinity of multiple proposed routes face being asked to sacrifice their property, safety, and rural way of life, for a purported greater good – a “public necessity.”

What, precisely, is the greater good?

The possibility, but not the promise, of cheap gas?  Most signs point to the majority of the gas through this pipeline being exported as LNG.  The US EIA has recently concluded, “Increased LNG exports lead to increased natural gas prices.”[2]  To the extent that any of this gas would be available for domestic electrical generators, it should be noted that the shift in New England towards heavy reliance on natural gas for our electrical generation has already made electric ratepayers beholden to the whims of the natural gas commodities market.[3]

Is the greater good “keeping the lights on?”  Market reforms, demand-side solutions, and serious investments in renewables and renewable storage can keep the lights on without razing swaths through treasured New England landscapes, deforesting hundreds of acres, and resorting to massive eminent domain takings.  If we are not ready to march across the bridge to a sustainable energy infrastructure today, there are less invasive fossil fuel “bridges” for the short term:  increasing LNG storage to deal with peak demand periods would not require the investment in new infrastructure (the costs of which would be passed on to the ratepayers); nor would keeping open a few of the oil plants that ISO New England deems “at-risk of retirement,” to be used only during times of peak demand.[4]

Is the greater good “switching to cleaner energy sources”?  A pipeline that sends 2 billion cubic-feet of gas per day out of the Marcellus shale, to be burned somewhere or leak along the way, would further regional environmental destruction and climate change.[5]  Preventing this pipeline, even if it means burning a bit more oil for a few more years, would be more likely to allow a timely transition to renewables.  The studies keep pouring in concluding that (1) natural gas is not better than other fossil fuels from a climate-change perspective, and (2) accessibility to natural gas is impeding our transition to renewables.  If natural gas has served as a bridge, at this point it’s a raised drawbridge.  That said, Deutsche Bank recently predicted that solar energy will nonetheless achieve grid parity by 2016 across the U.S.[6]  Storage technology for renewables is viable and constantly improving.[7]

Forty-one forward-thinking communities recognize that Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion proposal is a sales pitch for infrastructure that would be a huge step backwards.  This pipeline is likely to be obsolete before it is built.

Katy Eiseman
MassPLAN

[1]    A list is available at http://www.massplan.org/local-governments-taking-action.

[2]    “Effect of Increased Levels of Liquefied Natural Gas Exports on U.S. Energy Markets,” October 29, 2014, U.S. Energy Information Administration (http://www.eia.gov/analysis/requests/fe/.

[3]    “Wholesale Energy Prices Track the Price of Natural Gas,” chart on p. 12 of ISO New England Update: Consumer Liaison Group Meeting, September 24, 2014 (http://www.iso-ne.com/static-assets/documents/2014/09/george_clg_9_24_14.pdf).

[4]    See generally comments to the New England States Committee on Electricity from the Conservation Law Foundation (http://www.nescoe.com/uploads/CLF_CommentsonIGER_30May2014.pdf) and GDF Suez (http://www.nescoe.com/uploads/GDF-SUEZ_CommenstonIGER_30May2014.pdf).

[5]    “Using more cheap natural gas in future decades won’t slow global warming, new study projects,” U.S.  News & World Report, October 15, 2014 (http://www.usnews.com/news/science/news/articles/2014/10/15/study-natural-gas-surge-wont-slow-global-warming).

[6]    “Solar Is Starting To Win The Price War,” Aaron Levitt, Investopedia, November 4, 2014 (http://www.investopedia.com/articles/markets/110414/solar-starting-win-price-war.asp).

[7]    “Talking with $1 Billion Battery Startup Alevo,” Zachary Shahan, Clean Technica, November 10, 2014, (http://cleantechnica.com/2014/11/10/alevo-1-billion-battery-startup); “A Battery to Prop Up Renewable Power Hits the Market,” Kevin Bullis, November 14, 2014, MIT Technology Review (http://www.technologyreview.com/news/532311/a-battery-to-prop-up-renewable-power-hits-the-market).

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