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Energy Decision Places Renewable Projects Over Gas Pipelines

Tim Green

A decision by Connecticut energy officials could have a major impact on Massachusetts and New England. The decision pulls the plug on plans to construct more natural gas pipelines in the state, while boosting the use of renewable energy throughout the region.

It was an ill wind – a frigid polar vortex three winters ago that sent shivers up the spines of regional state energy planners. They were fearful soaring use of natural gas to generate electricity and static pipeline capacity would leave New England freezing in the dark – paying the highest energy costs in the nation.

To keep winter lights on, Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection asked pipeline companies to submit bids to build new natural gas infrastructure. But earlier this week they reversed course, deciding not to go ahead with the pipeline proposals, and instead negotiate bids from renewable energy producers.

Connecticut Energy Deputy Commissioner Katie Dykes says, “This is a real important milestone in this historic procurement. It’s the first time the states in southern New England have worked together to build a common marketplace for clean energy.”

Massachusetts and Rhode Island have joined Connecticut in pursuing negotiations with 11 companies that submitted bids to generate electricity from solar, hydro and wind power.

Connecticut officials decided not to go the gas pipeline route in order to protect the state's ratepayers. They would have had to foot the bill for the infrastructure alone after Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled last summer that it was unconstitutional to have electric customers pay for gas infrastructure, and New Hampshire recently followed suit.

Renewable energy advocates were overjoyed as news of Connecticut's decision spread: “In one day I think we have essentially seen the course of New England's energy future righted,” says Gregg Cunningham, director of Clean Energy programs with Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation.
“It's a regional approach, which is a good thing. It brings the cost of the resources by buying in bulk and it allows all of these to meet the region’s climate goals.”

Connecticut's decision is bad news for Houston-based Spectra Energy. Its proposed $3 billion Access Northeast pipeline project, which would have expanded an existing line and constructed two giant liquid natural gas tanks in Acushnet, seems dead, if not buried. But when it comes to gas infrastructure, Connecticut says never say never. The state is leaving open the possibility of new pipelines in the future.

Connecticut Energy Deputy Commissioner Katie Dykes says, “You know, all of these different clean energy resources, they have different operating characteristics. They're not perfect substitutes for say a natural gas pipeline.”

Massachusetts Energy Secretary says in light of Connecticut's decision, the Baker administration will "continue its pursuit of a balanced approach to a diversified renewable energy portfolio."

This report comes from the New England News Collaborative, eight public media companies coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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