Monthly Archives: July 2016

Little need for new gas pipelines

A year ago, companies based in the Southwest were planning about 3.0 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in new natural gas pipeline capacity entering New England, nearly doubling current capacity of about 3.6 BCf/d. Why would that happen? New England is at most a slowly growing energy market. Since the region was already well advanced in switching from coal-fired and oil-fired to gas-fired electricity generation, there were no huge, likely new customers. It was clear that pipeline companies had other motives.

Although pipeline companies would not admit it, most industry observers read those motives as sending U.S. natural gas into international markets through Canada. For such purposes, New England is not a market but a transportation route. The region does not need to accept environmental hazards in order to boost pipeline company profits milked from the region by using it as a pathway to foreign trade.

Gas giant collapses: Since then, new information appeared, and pipeline momentum stalled. Last November, Maura Healey, the state’s attorney general, released a report prepared by Analysis Group of Boston (AGB), examining needs for new gas pipeline capacity to provide reliable electricity. In its 70-page report, AGB showed that adaptation of the current electricity network can meet needs for at least the next fifteen years, without new gas pipelines.

New England was not well outfitted for cold winters of 2013 and 2014, when natural gas supplies were stressed, causing spikes in electricity prices. Advance preparation–stockpiling fuels and equipping plants to burn either gas or oil–began to help the next year. In the winter of 2016, milder weather and better preparation led to no electricity price spike.

Monthly electricity prices, Jan. 2010 thru June 2016

IsoNeMonthlyHubDayAhead2010to2016
Source: ISO New England data, July, 2016

The region’s average wholesale electricity price for the utility year ended March 31 was 2.8 cents per kWh. Wholesale electricity prices this year stand comparable to other regions that organize competitive generation markets. Retail prices remain higher in New England than in most of the U.S., but that is mainly because of aging distribution networks, incurring high maintenance costs. Despite claims from pipeline promoters, given good management of current gas supplies, New England has little to gain and much to lose from new pipelines.

This spring, the proposed Northeast Direct pipeline was cancelled by financial parent Kinder Morgan of Houston, TX. It was the largest and most disruptive of the New England projects, threatening undisturbed lands and state forests across northwestern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. Although Kinder Morgan cited “market” factors, it no could longer depend on political pressures stimulated by electricity price spikes.

Next largest projects: Access Northeast, sponsored by Spectra Energy of Houston, is the next largest project. Unlike Kinder Morgan’s proposed line, most of Spectra’s proposal was sited along rights of way for the Algonquin pipeline, opened in 1953, which Spectra now operates. However, Access Northeast also includes large branches that would plow through new territories.

Spectra Access Northeast, eastern Connecticut through Massachusetts

SpectraAccessNortheastCTRIMA2016
Source: U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, July, 2016

The largest new branches are proposed in central and eastern Massachusetts, running from the Algonquin main line in Medway to West Boylston, just north of Worcester, and from Medway to Canton, where that new branch is to rejoin and reinforce the southern part of the main line, heading toward Weymouth. The branches through new territories, about 50 miles in all, are generating much more opposition than the rest of the project, about 75 miles that are nearly all sited on current Algonquin rights of way.

Opponents of Spectra have more complex targets than opponents of Kinder Morgan. There are now three Spectra projects in New England. Algonquin Incremental Market has been in construction since 2015, aimed at increasing capacity along the Algonquin main line between southern New York and eastern Massachusetts. Its most controversial feature has been a high pressure, 3-1/2 ft diameter pipe under the Hudson River, passing a few hundred feet from the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan, NY.

International exports: Atlantic Bridge is the most revealing and speculative Spectra project. It would increase compressor power all along the Algonquin line and add a new compressor in Weymouth. That one would be used to reverse gas flow on the HubLine, opened in 2003 across Massachusetts Bay between Weymouth and Beverly Harbors. There are no proven markets in New England to be served. Instead, like the recently cancelled Kinder Morgan project, Atlantic Bridge would aid international export of U.S. natural gas through Canada.

So far, Spectra has shuffled along plans for its three large, mutually reinforcing projects in defiance of law. The combined new capacity from the three large Spectra projects is more than the capacity that was planned from the cancelled Kinder Morgan project. A 1976 Supreme Court opinion held that “when several proposals…that will have cumulative or synergistic environmental impact upon a region are pending concurrently before an agency, their environmental consequences must be considered together.”

Ms. Healey, the attorney general, is currently defending the state against a pipeline company lawsuit for a small project, extending a branch line into northwestern Connecticut across a state forest. So far, however, while she raised the issue of concurrent projects in comments sent to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, she has not launched a court challenge against the Spectra projects–all seeking separate reviews instead of joint review as elements of a single, larger project.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 20, 2016


Jon Chesto, Kinder Morgan shelves $3 billion pipeline project, Boston Globe, April 20, 2016

Mild weather, ample natural gas supply curb Northeast winter power and natural gas prices, U.S. Energy Information Administration, April 5, 2016

Sam Thielman, Planned gas pipeline alongside Indian Point nuclear plant stirs meltdown fears, Manchester Guardian (UK), April 4, 2016

Clarence Fanto, Massachusetts attorney general picks up fight against natural gas pipeline that would serve Connecticut, New Haven (CT) Register, March 21, 2016

Wholesale power prices decrease across the country in 2015, U.S. Energy Information Administration, January 11, 2016

Paul J. Hibbard and Craig P. Aubuchon, Power system reliability in New England, Analysis Group (Boston, MA), November 18, 2015 (1 MB)

Paul L. Joskow, Natural gas: from shortages to abundance in the U.S., American Economic Review, 103(3):338-343, 2013

Bruce Estrella, HubLine impact assessment, mitigation and restoration, Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, 2009

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

Bugle Taps for “West Station”

A so-called “West Station” project has looked to be the last spray of transit sparkle from the former Patrick administration. The state transportation project list still shows a huge “sleeper” project. Like many other state Web sites, that one is also fouled with mold: years out of date. It estimates a total project cost of about $434 million.

The most recent online data for DOT project no. 606475, from the spring of 2011, called for “replacement of the elevated viaduct, realignment of I-90 (the Massachusetts Turnpike), reconstruction of (the Allston) interchange and connecting ramps, reconstruction of Cambridge Street, reconstruction of Beacon Park Yard to accommodate an MBTA commuter rail layover facility and construction of West Station.”

Flack work: As recently as the fall of 2014, state publicity flacks were blaring trumpets. Nicole Dungca, a press-release parakeet for the Boston Globe, wrote, “A $25 million transit station…is meant to help overhaul the huge swath of land near the Allston-Brighton tolls…nimble, self-propelled cars…would mimic trolley or subway service.” The first time we heard Buddliners called “nimble.” However, her story cautioned, “There is currently no timeline….” She might have added, “There is also no money.”

In the spring of 2014. a more experienced Globe reporter, Martine Powers, had written, “A MassDOT official announced that the cost of constructing a new rail station would not be part of the $260 million budget” for the Allston interchange project. Other than canning a “$25 million” rail station, there has still been no news saying how a “$434 million” project in 2011 might cost only “$260 million” in 2014. Big Dig in reverse gear?

Contacts at the transportation department continue to say that plans for an Allston rail station remain on the dead-letter heap. According to a report from December, 2015, “Toll revenues can not be used” for such a station. No other funds are cited. What happened to a project feature claimed to “transform” the Allston area?

Intervening opportunities: For many decades, the Cambridge Street and Lincoln Street part of Allston has been industrial and low-rent residential: some two-family houses and three-story brick apartments, a couple of auto repair shops, a rail yard, a bearing distributor and a warehouse for used furniture. A steel warehouse gave way to a speculative Internet connection hub–never finished and now vacant 15 years. Seemingly perennial Allston Food & Sprits–home of “frog legs”–has flipped since 2007. No more venison, geese or frog legs.

Brighton on the south side of the Turnpike is a different scene, more like rags to riches. New Balance, hero of that story, tore down the former Honeywell factory on Life Street, built a new headquarters office and is replacing dilapidated warehouses with new office buildings, housing and retail shops. New Balance is also paying the whole tab for a new station on the former main line of the Boston & Albany Railroad, now the MBTA Worcester commuter-rail line. Most Allston neighborhoods are closer to that station–adjacent to the Everett Street overpass–than to the rear of the former rail yard. No funding problems. Now a so-called “West Station”–less than a mile to the east–no longer matters.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 14, 2016


Peter B. Kingman, Buddliner awaiting disposal next to Fitchburg Line in Cambridge, New England Railroad Photo Archive, 1989

Mass. Highway project no. 606475, in online descriptions of state projects, last update 2011

Martine Powers, Allston rail station plan scrapped for now, Boston Globe, May 26, 2014

Nicole Dungca, New transit station could transform Allston area, Boston Globe, September 30, 2014

Jessica Geller, New Balance opens new world headquarters at Boston Landing. Boston Globe, September 17, 2015

I-90 Allston Interchange, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, December, 2015 (8 MB)

Nicole Dungca, New Balance, MBTA break ground on Allston-Brighton station, Boston Globe, May 12, 2016

Fairer elections and more diverse officeholders

Some supposedly “American” innovations in democracy actually began in Australia, led by Tasmania. Perhaps the most surprising of them might be the official and anonymous ballot–first used there in 1856–inaccurately called the “secret ballot.” After experiments in Louisville, KY, and other cities, in 1888 Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to require government printed, anonymous ballots based on the Australian model. Washington and Lincoln had been elected using open, privately printed ballots, as was New York City’s infamous Tweed gang.

A more rarely used Australian innovation aims at fair representation, intended to make it more feasible for minorities of all sorts to become officeholders. Tasmania has used one such approach since 1907: ranked voting. Candidates are ranked on ballots, and votes are distributed according to the rankings. In Massachusetts, the City of Cambridge adopted a version of this approach, starting in 1941, and still uses it.

Ranked and weighted voting: Tallying elections using ranked voting is always complex, and it always involves some arbitrary shortcuts for distributing votes according to rankings. No state has adopted it. Cambridge used to need about a week for a tally until 2001, when the city bought a computerized system–also adopted by Burlington, VT. Australia continues with slow, manual tallies. A week after its 2016 elections for parliament, the winning party was known, but the numbers of members for the parties remained in doubt.

It has been shown that unbiased translation from voter rankings to candidate selections poses a factorially complex problem, far beyond foreseeable computing power for voting populations of most communities. Weighted voting provides a far less complex approach to fair representation, in which voters weight rather than rank their support for candidates. Modern forms of it are innovations from the United States, not Australia.

CumulativeBallotExample

The simplest fair-voting plan equips each voter with multiple votes to be allocated among the candidates for an office. Such an approach can be compatible with electronic, scanned and plain-paper ballots and can yield an almost instant election result. Adding normalized weights that were assigned to candidates by voters avoids the arbitrariness and huge complexity of trying to interpret rankings. Weighted or “cumulative” voting is used in business settings, but no U.S. states and only a few communities–such as Port Chester, NY–have adopted it. However, the Electoral College that chooses Presidents has provided a longstanding example, since 1824.

Official cliques and transformative change: Local governments in most communities often fall into control of official cliques, but those may wax and wane over time as powerbrokers come and go. Election reforms can help communities resist cliques, increase diversity and improve open government. One can expect resistance to such reforms from members of cliques.

New England towns with representative town meetings typically have annual elections for groups of officeholders who hold staggered terms, with only a subset of a group elected at a time. Such a custom promotes formation and persistence of official cliques; they need focus on only a small number of candidates in any one year. It harbors minefields for independent candidates and newcomers.

A potentially transformative change to a New England town would truncate current terms of offices and change to elections every few years, with all members of groups of officeholders elected at the same time, as typically occurs in cities. Coupled with change to weighted or “cumulative” voting, minorities of many sorts would see improved opportunities to counter cliques and to elect some officeholders.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 10, 2016


Kristen Gelineau, Associated Press, Australian leader claims election win, but questions remain, ABC News, July 10, 2016

Stephen St. Vincent, Could ranked choice voting stop Donald Trump?, Philadelphia (PA) Citizen, March 10, 2016

Ranked choice voting and instant runoff, FairVote (Takoma Park, MD), 2015

Cumulative voting, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, 2014

Jill Lepore, How we used to vote, New Yorker, 2008

Peter Brent, The Australian ballot, Canberra Times, 2005

Andrew Gelman, Jonathan N. Katz and Joseph Bafumi, Standard voting power indexes do not work: an empirical analysis, British Journal of Political Science 34:657–674, 2004

David Goode, The advent of proportional representation in Cambridge, Cambridge (MA) Civic Journal, 1998

Douglas J. Amy, A brief history of proportional representation in the United States, Mount Holyoke College, 1997

Lani Guinier, The case for cumulative voting, WBAI Net (New York, NY), 1994

John J. Bartholdi, III, and James B. Orlin, Single transferable vote resists strategic voting, Working Paper No. 3221-90-MS, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1990

Electoral Reform with the Massachusetts Ballot Reform Act and New York (Saxton) Bill, Economic Tracts 24, Society for Political Education (New York, NY), 1889

Chump No. 2 returns as anti-Semite

Completing his circle of hatred joining with the Ku Klux Klan–complementing his attacks on black and Spanish-speaking Americans, Muslims, women and the disabled–the Chump has recently gone after Jews, in a message sent from his account on a popular social medium. Reuters reporter Emily Flitter wrote a story released Saturday, July 2, describing a scurrilous Presidential campaign message–soon published by the Washington Post, the San Diego Jewish World, the Tri-County Sun Times of Houston, the London Daily Mail, the Jerusalem Post, the Indian Express and other news media worldwide.

Hillary Clinton attacked in anti-Semitic smear

TrumpClipClintonCorrupt20160702
Source: message from Donald Trump, nominee for President

The slur on Hillary Clinton featured a Star of David outline, emblazoned with “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” and hovering over a scattering of United States currency. To anyone familiar with centuries of pogroms and anti-Semitic poison, an implied linkage was stark: Clinton, Jews, money and corruption.

According to Ms. Flitter, the recent attack on Hillary Clinton was a “reminder of the unrestrained side of Trump…the candidate has mocked a disabled newspaper reporter, referred to undocumented immigrants from Mexico as ‘rapists’ and recently pointed to a black man in the crowd at one of his rallies and called him ‘my African-American.’” After a brief intermezzo, turning to teleprompters and scripted speeches, Chump No. 2 appears back in force: racist, narcissist and grossly anti-Semitic.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 3, 2016

Postscript: The Chump saying he meant it, neo-Nazis going on a rampage and spokespersons for Jewish organizations rejecting the Chump. Around two weeks before his party’s national convention, he still had no campaign. Like sexual aggression, his narcissism is usually an incurable sickness. July 8, 2016


Emily Flitter, Reuters, Trump tweet that blasts Clinton as corrupt includes the Star of David, Washington Post, July 2, 2016

Richard North Patterson, Too sick to lead: the lethal personality disorder of Donald Trump, Huffington Post, June 3, 2016

Jewish Virtual Library, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a nineteenth-century anti-Semitic libel

Jill Colvin, Associated Press, Trump’s star tweet appeared on a white supremacist site, Washington Post, July 3, 2016

Jenna Johnson, Trump says campaign shouldn’t have deleted image circulated by white supremacists, Washington Post, July 6, 2016

Jose A. DelReal and Julie Zauzmer, Trump’s vigorous defense of anti-Semitic image a ‘turning point’ for many Jews, Washington Post, July 8, 2016

Craig Bolon, Chump No. 3, plain vanilla creep, Brookline Beacon, June 16, 2016