State energy study seems to support gas pipeline, minimizes sustainable energy resources

"I can confidently say that the pace of renewable energy technology adoption is increasing, and the very certain progress in electricity storage will allow residential and utility scale solar to offset demand for those peak winter hours in the years 2020-2030 that this study says can be fulfilled by new pipeline capacity." -- Berkshire Photovoltaic Services’ Christopher Kilfoyle

Boston — A long-awaited study examining the necessity for new natural gas pipeline infrastructure in Massachusetts – and intended to help settle the controversy surrounding Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct (NED) pipeline – has now been released.

The final report for the Massachusetts Low Gas Demand Analysis, issued on January 7, concludes that additional pipeline capacity is needed to meet peak demand over the next 15 years, with peak hour gas shortages ranging from 0.6 billion cubic feet (Bcf) per day to 0.9 Bcf per day by 2030. As proposed, the $5 billion, 36-inch diameter NED pipeline, which cuts directly through the Berkshires, would carry a capacity of 2.2. Bcf of natural gas derived from hydraulic fracturing along the Marcellus Shale region in Pennsylvania.

While the Low Demand study does not specifically address the Kinder Morgan pipeline project, it is meant both to determine the extent to which additional gas pipeline is needed and to guide Massachusetts’ energy policy in the coming years.

DOER spokesperson Mary-Leah Assad.
DOER spokesperson Mary-Leah Assad.

“The Patrick Administration conducted this study to ensure that the incoming Administration has updated information regarding the Commonwealth’s energy needs,” Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) spokeswoman Mary-Leah Assad explained in an email statement.

“This study demonstrates the need to continue investing in energy efficiency and pursuing clean, base-load power, like large hydro and wind, to ensure affordability and reliability for Massachusetts ratepayers,” she added. “In light of power plant retirements – Massachusetts will also need natural gas to meet demand in the coming years.”

The study, conducted by Synapse Energy Economics, Inc. and commissioned by the Massachusetts DOER, involved an open stakeholder process with three formal sessions over the past several months. The final report was initially targeted for release on Dec. 23, 2014, just days after the final stakeholder meeting, but DOER postponed the release following a surge of critical comments.

Stakeholders advocating clean energy alternatives and opposed to adding new pipelines addressed a number of issues with the draft analysis – a computation error that skewed the pricing of renewables, the study scope and assumptions straying from the original intent of the analysis, and the failure to require compliance with the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) — were just a few of the concerns noted.

While the computation error was corrected to reflect a more accurate cost-savings for alternative energy sources, the finalized report retains many of the same caveats and limitations.

“Our vision with a low demand scenario was to examine what it would take to avoid additional gas,” MassPLAN’s Katy Eiseman explained when asked to comment on the draft results and the original purpose of the study. Eiseman was one of five anti-pipeline citizens who initially called for this analysis during a meeting with former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick last July. She added that there seemed to be “a disconnect between what we were asking for and what is in fact being studied.”

Clean Water Action’s Joel Wool echoed the sentiment that the study is biased towards the assumption that more gas capacity is necessary.

“From the beginning, the frame of this study has been ‘how much shale gas do we import’ as opposed to ‘how do we ensure a livable and sustainable future’,” Wool said in a press release. “Given this origin, the results are unsurprising: our overreliance on gas has produced a scenario that may cause ratepayers to struggle for years, and an addiction to fossil fuels that puts at risks the state’s foundational commitment to the environment.”

Rosemary Wessel, representing
Rosemary Wessel, representing

Cummington resident Rosemary Wessel, head of the No Fracked Gas in Mass campaign, was also in the group that initially requested a comprehensive low demand study. She cautioned that the final report is not an all-inclusive analysis, and therefore may not be a useful blueprint for state energy policy.

“This final report is marginally improved over the initial version that was shown to stakeholders on December 18, but it still has many caveats, which are cited throughout the study,” Wessel said via email. “These make it difficult to reconcile the study’s findings with the actual energy decisions that will need to be made in light of the regional nature of our energy systems, the need to account for environmental impact in light of climate change and the GWSA, and the need for more local, permanent jobs which could be created if clean energy solutions were fully embraced to meet these needs, revealing their true economic feasibility.”

Eiseman acknowledged that the final report presents alternative energy in a more favorable light in terms of pricing, but said the study still falls short.

“With corrections to computations in the initial draft, this study now shows that many more sustainable energy sources come very close to being on par with gas from a pure price perspective,” she said via email, adding, “Given that the study includes numerous subjective parameters and explicitly excludes non-energy benefits — such as reduced health costs and new jobs related to alternative measures — it is quite likely that a more comprehensive analysis would tilt towards many more of the alternatives to gas being more cost-effective than expanded pipeline infrastructure. Also, the study still does not require compliance with the Global Warming Solutions Act for the scenarios modeled.”

Because of vigorous opposition from Massachusetts towns and landowners, the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline may be shifted north through New Hampshire.
Because of vigorous opposition from Massachusetts towns and landowners, the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline may be shifted north through New Hampshire.

The study modeled eight scenarios in total – four under a “base case” demand assumption and the other four under a “low demand” case, which included only those alternatives resources determined to be technically and economically feasible. The four scenarios for each case included assumptions of high natural gas price, low natural gas price, and reference natural gas price, with the reference price modeled both with and without 2,400 megawatts of incremental Canadian transmission. The Canadian transmission covers imported system power, primarily hydro with some nuclear, fossil fuels and renewables, coming from Quebec.

While the study dismisses some alternative energy resources – particularly small-scale photovoltaic solar – as not being technically or economically feasible to meet peak demand, Berkshire Photovoltaic Services’ Christopher Kilfoyle explains that in actuality, renewables are rapidly catching up.

“I can confidently say that the pace of renewable energy technology adoption is increasing,” he said via email, “and the very certain progress in electricity storage will allow residential and utility scale solar to offset demand for those peak winter hours in the years 2020-2030 that this study says can be fulfilled by new pipeline capacity.”