In a brazen money-grab, two big U.S. pipeline companies proposed major new natural-gas pipelines across southern new England a few years ago. At 2.7 Bcf/d (billion cubic feet per day), their combined new capacity would have far exceeded the most aggressive estimate of domestic needs over 30 years, 1.1 Bcf/d.
Thinly disguised motives were to build channels to ship U.S. natural gas overseas as LNG (liquefied natural gas), mainly sent in ocean-going tankers to Europe. Natural gas is a finite and strategic U.S. resource that has greatly reduced emissions of toxic substances and greenhouse gases, as compared with coal-fired power, during our country’s transition to renewable energy.
The pipeline developments were poorly reported in New England. The Boston Globe, the region’s largest news medium, has never employed a competent energy reporter. It has lacked a dedicated reporter on environmental issues since Beth Daley left in 2011 for a Knight fellowship at Stanford, never to return. Its politics reporters are usually clueless about business. Its business reporters pretend to be clueless about politics.
Take the money and run: Greedy, hostile companies trying to ream out New England were Kinder Morgan of Houston, TX–successor to Enron, El Paso Pipeline and Tennessee Gas Pipeline–and Spectra Energy of Houston–successor to Texas Eastern Pipeline and Algonquin Gas Transmission. Spectra recently became a division of Enbridge, a tar-sands pipeline developer located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
The greedy, hostile companies were looking for a cheap date and found one. What could be cheaper than building pipelines with somebody else’s money? At somebody else’s risk? The 2014 Republican candidate for Massachusetts governor became an eager cheerleader. On Election Day, 2014, five Kinder Morgan executives forked over $2,500 to the campaign of Governor-elect Charles Duane Baker, Jr. Senior personnel at other interested companies and groups had kicked in earlier for “Charlie”–as he styled himself.
As Gov. “Charlie” likely knew at the time and surely should have known, the largest electric utilities in New England entertained partnerships with Spectra Energy. Eversource–successor to Boston Edison–and National Grid–successor to Northeast Utilities–considered commitments to Spectra’s “Access Northeast” project: a major, new gas pipeline along the route of the Algonquin pipeline opened in 1953.
Payback to business backers of Gov. “Charlie” was prompt. Angela O’Connor became chair of the Department of Public Utilities (DPU). She was a former president of New England Power Generators Association. Ron Gerwatowski became assistant secretary for energy. He had been a senior vice president at National Grid. Robert Hayden, a DPU lawyer who lost for Congress, running as a reactionary, became DPU commissioner.
Three months after Gov. “Charlie” took office, mastiffs at the Department of Energy Resources proposed to allow electricity distribution companies to invest in natural-gas pipelines, funded by surcharges levied against retail electricity rates. They should have known the proposal violated both letter and spirit of the 1997 Electric Utility Restructuring Act. [St. 1997, C. 164] That law took the distribution companies, including Boston Edison and Northeast Utilities, away from electricity generation they had mismanaged.
Three and a half months later, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office (AGO) notified the DPU that the proposal in DPU docket 15-37 appeared to violate the Electric Utility Restructuring Act. According to the AGO, the proposal also lacked “ratepayer protections such as competitive processes, transparency, avoidance of conflicts of interest and incentives to achieve the best results for ratepayers.” In other words, it encouraged greedy, hostile companies against which the Electric Utility Restructuring Act had been aimed.
Battling the elements, elements mostly win: An ox set to be gored by would-be money-grabbers was the operator of the Distrigas LNG terminal on the Everett waterfront. Since 1971, that facility has landed natural gas shipped from overseas to fuel what became the largest generating plant in New England. Lower costs for U.S. gas delivered from pipelines shut in three other New England LNG terminals, but the Everett terminal survived through enterprising services and favorable, long-term contracts.
More recently interconnected to major pipelines, the Everett terminal has supplied gas to pipeline customers during winter months when demands peak. Operator GDF Suez, reorganized as Engie in 2015, was incensed to find that Massachusetts might subsidize operations of pipeline competitors through regulated electricity rates and promptly filed a Massachusetts lawsuit: Engie Gas & LNG v. Department of Public Utilities. Other New England energy operators petitioned a federal agency to block similar state subsidy schemes.
Through an amicus filing, the AGO advised the Supreme Judicial Court that DPU support for pipeline subsidies using regulated electricity rates violated the Electric Utility Restructuring Act and went beyond DPU powers under the state’s general laws. The SJC assigned expedited reviews. In a decision of August, 2016, the SJC flatly reversed the DPU, closely following the attorney general’s reasoning.
Seeing that Massachusetts utilities were lining up behind the Specta project, Kinder Morgan had folded its cards before the SJC decision, shelving the “Northeast Energy Direct” project. Less than a year later, finding no customer base to support oversized capacity, Spectra shut down the “Access Northeast” project. Thus the administration of Gov. “Charlie” was left adrift–ready to run but lacking a race track.
Working mostly in the shadows, Gov. “Charlie” continues catering to business allies at the expense of voters and taxpayers. Recently the DPU shut down residential solar energy, again pandering to large utilities that would rather not be bothered with an intermittent, nondispatchable energy source.
– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, March 6, 2018
Residential solar suffers a major setback from latest DPU decision, Solar Energy Business Association of New England (Amherst, MA), January 12, 2018
Enzo DiMatteo, More banks bailing on tar sands pipelines, Now Magazine (Toronto), November 6, 2017
Herman K. Trabish, Massachusetts utilities take divergent approaches to grid modernization, Utility Dive (Washington, DC), September 6, 2017
Mary C. Serreze, Enbridge suspends Access Northeast natural gas pipeline plan, Springfield (MA) Republican, June 29, 2017
Jon Chesto, Lacking financing, utilities put $3 billion natural gas pipeline plan on hold, Boston Globe, June 29, 2017
Andy Metzger, State House News, Beaton ‘saddened’ by retribution charges as State House inquiry lingers, Worcester (MA) Sun, October 2, 2016
Richa Naidu and Sweta Singh, Enbridge buying Spectra in $28 billion deal, Reuters (UK), September 6, 2016
Lee Hansen, The Massachusetts natural-gas pipeline-expansion proposal, Connecticut General Assembly, August 29, 2016
Eugenia T. Gibbons, DPU approval for pipeline tax sought no more, but Spectra project still very much in the works, Mass. Energy Consumers Alliance (Boston), August 25, 2016
Engie Gas & LNG v. Department of Public Utilities, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Case nos. SJC-12051 and SJC-12052, August 17, 2016
Colin A. Young and Katie Lannan, State House News, Gov. Baker signs renewable energy bill, Quincy (MA) Patriot Ledger, August 8, 2016
Jon Chesto. SJC rejects Baker’s plan to impose fee for gas pipelines, Boston Globe, June 29, 2016
William Opalka, Generation owners seek to block EDC-pipeline deals, RTO Insider (Potomac, MD), June 27, 2016
Jon Chesto. Kinder Morgan shelves $3 billion pipeline project, Boston Globe, April 20, 2016
Mary C. Serreze, More than 90 Massachusetts lawmakers oppose ratepayers financing natural gas pipelines, Springfield (MA) Republican, April 11, 2016
Craig Altemose, Gov. Baker’s campaign contributions from energy executives, Huffington Post, April 7, 2016
Mary C. Serreze, Supreme Judicial Court to consider if Massachusetts electric utilities can buy pipeline capacity on behalf of power plants, Springfield (MA) Republican, April 5, 2016
Paul J. Hibbard and Craig P. Aubuchon (Analysis Group, Boston), Power System Reliability in New England, November, 2015 (prepared for Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office)
Rebecca Tapper, Healey slams Baker’s DPU in letter, Commonwealth, September 22, 2015
Craig Altemose, Emerging reality of gas infrastructure: destination export, Huffington Post, July 10, 2015
Initial comments of the attorney general, Department of Public Utilities docket 15-37, June 15, 2015
Shira Schoenberg, Seek to expand state’s natural gas capacity, Baker administration tells Department of Public Utilities, Springfield (MA) Republican, April 14, 2015
Natural gas delivery capacity for thermal load and electric generation, Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, Docket 15-37 initial filing, April 2, 2015
Brian Dowling, National Grid joins $3 billion New England pipeline buildout, Hartford (CT) Courant, February 18, 2015
Mary C. Serreze, Region needs energy upgrades, including more natural gas pipeline capacity, says grid operator ISO New England, Springfield (MA) Republican, January 26, 2015
David Abel, Baker appoints controversial new energy team, Boston Globe, January 13, 2015
Matt Murphy, State House News, Beaton shakes up DPU team, hires former National Grid exec, Lowell (MA)) Sun, January 12, 2015
David Abel, Environmentalists wary of Baker’s energy pick, Boston Globe, November 28, 2014
Shira Schoenberg, State Rep. Matt Beaton appointed energy secretary by Gov.-Elect Charlie Baker, Springfield (MA) Republican, November 17, 2014
Beth Daley, Senior reporter at New England Center for Investigative Reporting, Huffington Post, 2014
Thomas Overton, Everett LNG terminal at the crossroads, Power Magazine, July 2, 2013
An act relative to restructuring the electric utility industry, Massachusetts Acts of 1997, Chapter 164
Craig Bolon, New gas pipelines spurned: no subsidies from electricity rates, Brookline Beacon, August 17, 2016
Craig Bolon, Little need for new gas pipelines, Brookline Beacon, July 20, 2016
Craig Bolon, New England gas pipelines: attorney general weighs in, Brookline Beacon, November 1, 2015
Craig Bolon, New England gas pipelines: need versus greed, Brookline Beacon, August 29, 2015