Kulik against pipeline tariff in energy bill

State House News Service

Monday, April 11, 2016

BOSTON — A bipartisan group of 91 lawmakers plans to deliver a letter to House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Wednesday preemptively objecting to the inclusion of any provision in an expected omnibus energy bill that would require electric ratepayers to pay for a proposed natural gas pipeline.

At issue in the letter circulated by House Ways and Means Vice Chairman Stephen Kulik and House Minority Leader Bradley Jones is a natural gas pipeline proposed by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. that would carry shale gas from Pennsylvania through parts of Massachusetts.

The pipeline would enter western Massachusetts from New York, cut across the northern part of Berkshire, Hampshire and Franklin counties, divert into southern New Hampshire and re-enter Massachusetts before terminating in Dracut.

In the letter, the lawmakers say that in addition to burdening ratepayers, the pipeline will diminish private property values and public lands protected by the constitution and “make it impossible” for the state to meet its statutory emissions reduction requirements under the Global Warming Solutions Act.

“We ask you to ensure energy legislation does not commit ratepayers to bearing the cost and risk associated with financing new gas infrastructure,” Kulik, of Worthington, and Jones, of North Reading, wrote in the letter signed by 88 of their colleagues. “Doing so will create liabilities for the many legislators whose districts are impacted by one or more proposed fossil fuel projects, increase our state’s over-reliance on gas, and saddle ratepayers with significant expenses for years to come.”

Kulik told the News Service the pipeline is projected to cost between $5 billion and $8 billion, and that Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., a subsidiary of Kinder Morgan, has suggested imposing a tariff on electric customers in order to finance the project.

In the letter, Kulik and Jones said proposals to assess a surcharge on electric customers to pay for new natural gas pipeline infrastructure are unprecedented. Typically, the natural gas producers, they wrote, would be expected to pay for the pipeline after calculating that the expected revenue from gas sales would offset the costs.

“The fact that this is not happening means industry players have determined the risk is not worth the reward,” the letter reads. “Why should the ratepayer shoulder risk when private industry is unwilling to?”

Led by Energy Committee House Chairman Thomas Golden of Lowell, lawmakers are trying to craft an omnibus energy bill to address the region’s loss of coal-fired power sources and the planned closure of a nuclear plant in Plymouth. The bill is expected to establish footholds in Massachusetts for wind energy and hydro-electric power from Quebec.

“We have an exciting opportunity to replace our aging power generation fleet with renewable energy resources,” the letter reads. “We write today to express our deep concern about one concept, however, and that is proposed ratepayer financing of gas pipeline infrastructure. We urge you to omit any public support for gas pipeline expansion from omnibus energy legislation.”

Kulik said that while he has not heard specifically that pipeline financing is slated for inclusion in the omnibus bill, pipeline opponents want to put that idea to rest before it gains any traction.

“There’s speculation that it could be” included, he said. “The utilities may well be pushing this so we want to head that off.”

In a statement to the News Service, Kinder Morgan said it would pay to build the pipeline and customers would pay fees associated with transporting the natural gas along the pipeline.

“The proposed NED Project would bring sorely needed additional gas capacity to New England’s gas and electric distribution companies, benefiting the region’s energy and economic future and lowering energy prices for consumers,” the company said in the statement. “If approved by regulators, the project would be paid for by Kinder Morgan. Customers and shippers that use the project’s pipeline and infrastructure would pay set fees to transport natural gas from supply areas to commercial end-use markets.”

The lawmakers who signed the letter come from all corners of the state, Kulik said, because even if the pipeline would not traverse their district they recognize that financing it through a tariff would mean higher electricity bills for their constituents.

“We’ve had a lot of support from legislators throughout the state, even those whose districts are not directly in the path of this pipeline project,” Kulik said. “I think as a consumer issue, as an energy policy issue, as an environmental protection issue, we’re finding a lot of broad support from legislators throughout the state.”

The pipeline project is currently under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which Kulik said could make a final determination on the pipeline’s future by the end of this year.

Supporters of the pipeline say New England needs increased access to natural gas to meet energy needs, and the potential pipeline project could create jobs, but Kulik, who represents six towns in the pipeline’s path, said his extensive study of the project has led him to oppose it.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that for the gas pipeline, the downsides of it far exceed any potential benefit the people in Massachusetts would receive from it,” Kulik said. “Studies have shown that we do not need the additional gas capacity.”

Late last year, Attorney General Maura Healey’s office released a report that determined Massachusetts could meet its future energy reliability needs without new natural gas pipelines.

While new interstate pipeline capacity would have consumer price benefits, the report concluded, it would also carry significant up-front costs with risks to ratepayers of long-term commitments to pay for the new infrastructure.

The Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. called Healey’s study “seriously flawed.