Massachusetts Attorney General’s Report Confirms New Gas Pipelines Aren’t Needed

David Ismay

With leaders from around the world gathered in Paris for the international climate summit, CLF advocates are commenting on how what happens in Paris will impact what needs to happen here in New England to cut carbon, boost renewables, and protect our communities. Read the entire blog series.

A new report released by the Massachusetts Attorney General says big new gas pipelines aren't needed to keep the lights on in New England. Image: Massachusetts Attorney General's Office

A new report released by the Massachusetts Attorney General says big new gas pipelines aren’t needed to keep the lights on in New England. Click the image to view the entire infographic. Image: Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office

New England does not need new natural gas pipelines, now or in the future.

That is the main – and resounding – conclusion of a new study released a few days before Thanksgiving by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. Supported by comprehensive modeling, the extensive study conducted for Healey by Analysis Group, Inc., in Cambridge echoes and confirms what CLF’s own analysis has shown for some time now: For the foreseeable future (until at least 2030), we don’t need more gas pipeline capacity to power our homes and businesses reliably and affordably all year long, even in the dead of our coldest winters. And between now and 2030, our dollars are best spent – economically and environmentally – on energy efficiency, demand response, and renewables.

A Bad Investment Today – and for Our Future
As national and regional leaders, including CLF President Brad Campbell, are meeting in Paris to agree on long-overdue global climate action, the Attorney General’s study makes it crystal clear that new pipelines would not only be a bad economic investment today, they would be disastrous for our future and that of our kids and grandkids. New natural gas pipelines, the study concludes, would place New England on a trajectory of “failure to meet the region’s climate change goals” and would “increase GHG emissions-reduction compliance costs” over the long-run.

The study’s conclusion that a new pipeline would be uneconomical is consistent with an earlier independent study commissioned by and for the Maine Public Utilities Commission that found gas pipelines to be a bad investment for Maine consumers. And it was a conclusion reached from a unique position of impartiality. As “evidence” that New England “needs” the product it wants to sell us (surprise: a big new pipeline cutting across our towns, forests, and fields), energy giant Kinder Morgan points to studies that it bought and paid for. But the Attorney General has no dog in this fight other than to protect the interests and pocketbooks of her clients: you, me, our families, and our businesses across the Commonwealth.

Is the Winter Energy “Crisis” Real?
Importantly, Healey’s study asks a crucial threshold question that many others have skipped (or ignored) because of the high energy prices we experienced in the winter of 2013–14: Is there in fact a structural winter energy problem that needs solving?

After a definitive “no” in answer that question – “We find that under existing market conditions, there is no electric sector reliability deficiency through 2030, and therefore that no additional pipeline gas capacity is needed to meet electric reliability needs” (emphasis added) – Healy’s study tests its own conclusions. What about in a true worst-case scenario – where we need to produce essentially 100% of our future winter power without the benefit of existing and anticipated “back-up” power generators. Do we need new gas pipelines then?

The answer again is a resounding “no.”

Even under such dramatic “gas only” conditions, the AG’s study finds that any number of alternate solutions would be preferable – both economically and environmentally – to a big new pipeline. First the study notes that, absent any action on our part, the existing market would almost certainly respond to such a worst-case scenario by doing what it already has done to maintain reliability: It would add additional dual-fuel (oil and gas) generating capacity and contract for more liquefied natural gas (LNG). (Here the study confirms the analysis in CLF’s own recent report that the “least cost” option to address winter gas constraints in the near-term is more, and better, use of existing LNG infrastructure. This, the study concludes, would “involve minimal up-front investment by consumers.”)

But relying on more oil and gas in the 2030 time-frame would – like building new gas pipelines – place New England on a costly greenhouse gas emissions trajectory at odds with our climate change laws and goals. So the study recommends instead increased investment in energy efficiency, demand response, and renewable generation.

Efficiency and Renewables are the Best Bet for New Englanders
Sustained investment in these existing, tried-and-true clean energy technologies, Healey’s study concludes, “has the greatest potential net consumer benefit” of all options considered. It would save Massachusetts families and businesses $20 million a year compared to the cost of a new pipeline.

It’s also a safer investment. Instead of “placing up-front costs and risk” on us all “through significant long-term commitments to pay for . . . [pipeline] infrastructure,” investment in energy efficiency and demand response “involves flexible annual investments that can be altered over time in response to changing expectations around natural gas supply and demand.”

But there’s more. In addition to being the best economic option for guaranteeing long-term “winter reliability,” investing in energy efficiency, demand response, and renewables stands alone in its ability, according to the AG’s study, to achieve the “significant reductions in the emissions of GHG associated with electricity generation” that our climate change programs and laws require, and our kids and grandkids deserve.

A new pipeline can’t compete with that. Clean, smart energy is better for our pocketbooks, and better for our lives. Our clean energy future is now.

Follow CLF President Brad Campbell as he reports from the Paris Climate Talks.

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8 Responses to “Massachusetts Attorney General’s Report Confirms New Gas Pipelines Aren’t Needed”

  1. Suellen Balestra

    I think the climate talks are an exercise in futility. Until the world community starts to address th enormous and continuing growth in population, we are never going to stop climate change.
    SB

  2. Suellen Balestra

    I think the climate talks are an exercise in futility. Until the world community starts to address th enormous and continuing growth in population, we are never going to stop climate change.
    SB

  3. I hope that both the AG and the Conservation Law Foundation will now also investigate the biological and health impacts of wireless smart utility meters, flying under the guise of sustainability. The DPU committed fraud in issuing its smart meter mandate, and has relied on the safety claims of a career tobacco scientist. It is outrageous that MA ratepayers continue to finance the DPU paying their cronies exorbitant consulting fees to discuss the smart grid, which in not smart at all. Skyrocketing neurological health issues in the US, out of proportion to those in other countries, are confirming our worst fears.
    PB

  4. I hope that both the AG and the Conservation Law Foundation will now also investigate the biological and health impacts of wireless smart utility meters, flying under the guise of sustainability. The DPU committed fraud in issuing its smart meter mandate, and has relied on the safety claims of a career tobacco scientist. It is outrageous that MA ratepayers continue to finance the DPU paying their cronies exorbitant consulting fees to discuss the smart grid, which in not smart at all. Skyrocketing neurological health issues in the US, out of proportion to those in other countries, are confirming our worst fears.
    PB

  5. Dear CLF,

    I have no comment on the contracting structures under consideration for new gas pipelines into New England. It may be that KM et al are trying to arrange a low-risk sweetheart deal for themselves and peddling reliability fear to support their objectives. CLF, the AG, etc have my support when arguing for contract terms that fairly split investment risk between developers, rate payers, etc. But… I question your apparent conclusion that business-as-usual (e.g., dual fuel units burning oil, and LNG), social engineering (demand side management), and renewables are the best alternative to expanded pipeline capacity. Burning oil is worse for the atmosphere than burning gas, and last Jan-Feb a full 30% of our electricity fuel mix in New England, according to a recent Platts article. Similarly LNG, while comparable to regular natural gas when burned, has a greater lifecycle impact on the atmosphere, especially when it comes from places (e.g., Nigeria) where the regulatory regime is much less stringent than the US. So, pointing to use of oil and LNG as environmentally beneficial alternatives to pipelines bringing in gas from neighboring states seems baseless, at least to me. And renewables, as you know, only provide energy when the sun is shining and/or the wind is blowing. That doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable contributors to a low-carbon electricity supply portfolio, but rather, their ability to contribute to firm supply must be heavily discounted from the installed nameplate capacity. So, from a reliability perspective, renewables don’t contribute much. And finally, DSM, while generally the darling of the far Left (who likely believe that consumption itself is somehow immoral, greenhouse gases aside) is a really risk strategy when it comes to reliability. We don’t bet against human appetite when we talk about condoms in schools, clean needles for addicts, etc. So why do it for energy system planning? On cold dark winter days many of us in New England will want to crank the heat, cook a roast, and watch a game on the big screen and at those moments we will demand that the system work, as viewed from the living room couch. We won’t care much whether there is a Nigerian freighter or an oil tank providing the fuel. So, if CLF wants the system to be low-carbon on that day, I would suggest rethinking oppositions to gas pipelines per se (also nuclear and hydro from Canada, although I digress). It’s all well and good to parade around in a green cape, but what the atmosphere sees about is the results of cold-hearted, level-headed planning and action.

  6. Dear CLF,

    I have no comment on the contracting structures under consideration for new gas pipelines into New England. It may be that KM et al are trying to arrange a low-risk sweetheart deal for themselves and peddling reliability fear to support their objectives. CLF, the AG, etc have my support when arguing for contract terms that fairly split investment risk between developers, rate payers, etc. But… I question your apparent conclusion that business-as-usual (e.g., dual fuel units burning oil, and LNG), social engineering (demand side management), and renewables are the best alternative to expanded pipeline capacity. Burning oil is worse for the atmosphere than burning gas, and last Jan-Feb a full 30% of our electricity fuel mix in New England, according to a recent Platts article. Similarly LNG, while comparable to regular natural gas when burned, has a greater lifecycle impact on the atmosphere, especially when it comes from places (e.g., Nigeria) where the regulatory regime is much less stringent than the US. So, pointing to use of oil and LNG as environmentally beneficial alternatives to pipelines bringing in gas from neighboring states seems baseless, at least to me. And renewables, as you know, only provide energy when the sun is shining and/or the wind is blowing. That doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable contributors to a low-carbon electricity supply portfolio, but rather, their ability to contribute to firm supply must be heavily discounted from the installed nameplate capacity. So, from a reliability perspective, renewables don’t contribute much. And finally, DSM, while generally the darling of the far Left (who likely believe that consumption itself is somehow immoral, greenhouse gases aside) is a really risk strategy when it comes to reliability. We don’t bet against human appetite when we talk about condoms in schools, clean needles for addicts, etc. So why do it for energy system planning? On cold dark winter days many of us in New England will want to crank the heat, cook a roast, and watch a game on the big screen and at those moments we will demand that the system work, as viewed from the living room couch. We won’t care much whether there is a Nigerian freighter or an oil tank providing the fuel. So, if CLF wants the system to be low-carbon on that day, I would suggest rethinking oppositions to gas pipelines per se (also nuclear and hydro from Canada, although I digress). It’s all well and good to parade around in a green cape, but what the atmosphere sees about is the results of cold-hearted, level-headed planning and action.

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