Legislators to meet with gas company

From the Daily Hampshire Gazette: Rep. Kulik and Senator Rosenberg will meet with Berkshire Gas officials to discuss moratorium on new customers.

Friday, April 29, 2016

CHARLEMONT — Now that the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline project has been halted, state Rep. Stephen Kulik and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg will meet with Berkshire Gas Co. officials to discuss its ongoing moratorium on new natural gas customers.

Speaking at the Greater Shelburne Falls Area Business Association breakfast Friday at the Berkshire East Ski Lodge, Kulik said the legislators also hope to discuss long-term plans to meet the region’s future energy needs.

Kulik believes the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline is not merely suspended, but dead.

He believes the announcement to suspend the pipeline was made to give Kinder Morgan time to negotiate with those who had already contracted to receive natural gas supplies from the NED pipeline, but that “a more formal conclusion” was expected around the end of May.

“We don’t see this project getting rejuvenated in some other way,” he told the group. “I think we have seen the end of Kinder Morgan, but I’m waiting for that very final word.”

Kulik said the given reason for the suspension was that Kinder Morgan didn’t have enough customers to justify what might have been a $5 billion to $8 billion project. But they also hadn’t been prepared for the extensive community opposition and activism, he said.

“It was not just a NIMBY effort, but the area’s commitment to green energy,” said Kulik. “I think the way people reacted to this pipeline was so consistent with Franklin County values. But it’s not the end of a significant conversation, because we do have to meet our energy needs.”

He said he hoped local communities would continue pursuing renewable energy options, and that Berkshire Gas would develop its infrastructure to meet potential energy needs for the future. Berkshire Gas imposed a moratorium on new hookups nearly two years ago citing the need for a new pipeline to provide it with fuel. Others have argued that the company could find other sources of additional fuel such as liquefied natural gas delivered by truck or rail.

When asked about last-mile broadband, Kulik was optimistic that the state’s delay in spending on building Internet access to rural towns would be over soon, but he was less certain about what role WiredWest would play in the fiber optic build-out.

Kulik said the Charlie Baker administration is not backing off plans for the broadband build-out, or for the use of $50 million in state money to offset the cost to the towns. “But they were critical of the WiredWest model, and they question the ownership, governance and financing assumptions,” he said.

Kulik said the Massachusetts Broadband Institute will be meeting with the WiredWest multi-town cooperative and others in about two weeks.

And the partially served cable towns — Shelburne, Buckland, Conway and Northfield — should soon see the start of design and construction work soon, since funding for the Comcast build-out has been approved by MBI.