By Christine Morabito – December 2015
What we have is a problem of energy inequality.
In terms of energy costs, Massachusetts residents pay the highest prices in the nation – three to four times as much per kilowatt hour for electricity. We are so accustomed to paying this exorbitant amount, that we rarely question it. The fact is: our available energy has failed to meet the rising demand.
The solution is Kinder Morgan’s proposed Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline (NED). The plan calls for approximately 60 miles of pipeline to be constructed in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire. The pipeline will deliver clean natural gas, which will also be used to generate electricity. An increased supply means much lower costs. It is estimated that the average New England household will save $437 per year.
We need energy for our most basic activities of daily living, like refrigeration, cooking, plumbing, lighting, heating and cooling our homes and businesses. Energy also allows us to communicate with the outside world through our computers, fax machines and smartphones, and find enjoyment through our big screen televisions, satellite dishes, and Xboxes.
This domestically obtained natural gas has the ability to make our region energy independent, reducing our need to import dirty fuels like coal and oil, often from foreign sources. That is supposed to be a good thing.
The pipeline, with its new, green and affordable energy, will attract new businesses and bring an economic boost to our region. A study by the Beacon Hill Institute has determined, “Lower energy cost would translate into investment in manufacturing where the high price of electricity and natural gas has long served as a barrier to growth. Thus, the increased availability of natural gas could sustain and increase the state’s competitive advantage.” An estimated 1,700 new jobs will be created during construction, increasing to 10,000 by 2020. That means increased local revenue for cities and towns for our roads, bridges and schools.
Some pipeline opponents would like you to believe that the project involves some radical, risky new endeavor. Actually, most of us all ready have pipelines that run from the street to our homes. We just never think about them, as they rarely pose a problem.
According to the American Gas Association, natural gas utilities spend $19 billion annually on safety measures for the more than 2 million miles of pipelines stretching across the country. Their website states: “According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, pipelines are the safest, most environmentally-friendly and most efficient and reliable mode of transporting natural gas.” The nation’s pipeline network is regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, requiring routine monitoring and inspections. Kinder Morgan claims to exceed the DOT’s requirements, performing inspections “at least 26 times a year by air, vehicle or foot.”
That said, nothing is ever 100 percent safe. Leaks and explosions do occasionally occur, most often as a result of carelessness that sometimes goes unreported. The challenge is educating the public about identifying gas leaks and the importance of calling “811” before digging – even if only planting a tree.
The debate over the pipeline has become highly politicized. We have the vocal, well-funded opposition vs. the silent majority (average ratepayers) who support the pipeline. Many local politicians are holding a finger to the wind; either avoiding the issue like the third rail, or afraid to publicly support it, even though it means a better quality of life for the majority of their constituents.
As with any new construction project, there is a strong Not in My Backyard (NIMBY) component. However, construction, scheduled to begin in 2017, is expected to have little overall impact and cause minimal disruption. The 36-inch pipeline, when installed, requires only 100 feet on either side, then 50 feet once completed. 85 percent of the land needed is in the public “right of way,” or in the path of existing pipelines, power lines or both.
Some landowners will be affected, and there is the perception that Kinder Morgan could have demonstrated more compassion towards those individuals. There are reports of residents receiving letters warning of legal consequences for failing to allow their properties to be surveyed. In the name of fairness, I will address this issue in a follow-up column.
National Grid Massachusetts has expressed their support for the pipeline due to its ability to alleviate high electricity prices and prepare us for future gas demands. Their statement follows: “National Grid believes in a balanced approach to the region’s energy challenges, including efficiency, new natural gas infrastructure, and renewable energy sources. Additional pipeline capacity is necessary to address long term demand for natural gas heating, and to bring additional supply to electricity to moderate exorbitant electricity prices. Customers in New England have been subjected to more than $7 billion in electricity price increases over the last three winters. A diverse portfolio of solutions is the best way to secure a cleaner, more affordable long-term energy future for all customers.”
To truly understand the power of the opposition, one must follow the money. Consider this: Warren Buffett owns tremendous stock in our railroads; rails that, incidentally, transport large amounts of coal and oil. As we reduce our dependence on dirty fuels and opt for cleaner, more affordable natural gas, Buffett and billionaires like him are seeing a reduction in profits. Hence, the 1 percent have put their wealth, power and influence into the demonization of natural gas.
Not a fan of the 1 percent? Can you think of a better way to make billionaires a little poorer and yourself a little richer?