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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