Policies That Constrain Natural Gas Pinch Massachusetts Consumers
Posted February 21, 2019
Update: Middleborough, Massachusetts, has joined parts of New York’s Westchester County on a list of places in the Northeast U.S. where they’ve announced moratoriums on new natural gas service.
As is true in Westchester, there’s not enough pipeline infrastructure to deliver natural gas to everyone in Middleborough who wants it. From a notice posted recently by Middleborough Gas and Electric Department (MGED):
The interstate natural gas pipeline that feeds MGED’s service territory has been at capacity for some time. Due to the lack of new natural gas capacity in the region, MGED will not be able to meet requests for new natural gas service as of February 2019. … MGED is currently evaluating options to bring additional capacity to the region, but the time frame for securing additional capacity is uncertain, since pipeline projects can take many years to develop.
No question, the situation in Middleborough is unfortunate – as it is in sections of Westchester County affected by the natural gas moratorium there.
Blame short-sighted, agenda-driven opposition to constructing new natural gas pipelines or expand existing ones. Natural gas is near enough – in the Marcellus shale play in Pennsylvania that also extends into New York state.
But it might as well be on the moon. New York has a hydraulic fracturing ban in place, and there’s insufficient pipeline capacity to deliver natural gas from Pennsylvania into New York and Middleborough. Hardship for consumers and negative regional economic impact is the result.
In Westchester County they’re talking about potential barriers to new development of all kinds, from housing to commercial projects. “The dreams of homeowners and the future economic health of many of our communities hang in the balance,” local legislator MaryJane Shimsky said at a recent New York State Public Service Commission (NYPSC) hearing.
Yet, it’s more than economics. At the same NYPSC hearing, the Environmental Defense Fund’s Jonathan Peress said that the lack of natural gas supply causes environmental harm:
“Our data strongly support the conclusion that there is a natural gas supply problem in the downstate area including New York City and its suburbs. Our data demonstrate that those supply constraints, and they are pipeline supply constraints, are causing adverse environmental impacts.”
Increased use of clean natural gas in generating electricity is the main reason U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions have fallen to their lowest level in a generation. Indeed, at the NYPSC hearing Peress said “opposing or preventing all new pipeline capacity expansion projects into New York is not an effective climate policy.” Peress added that natural gas utilities and pipelines "have an important role to play" in achieving climate goals and, consistent with the state's climate goals, EDF data suggest "certain projects can and should foster greenhouse gas reductions ..."
In Middleborough, MGED’s advisory to consumers isn’t very hopeful. Customers are being told they can make improvements to existing natural gas service – replace an existing furnace, stove or hot water heater – as long as the load profile for their home or business doesn’t increase on a peak demand winter day. Again, that’s for existing service. Those seeking new natural gas service are left out in the cold.
It’s too bad. America’s energy abundance should benefit consumers in all parts of the country, and infrastructure is the key. In the two above situations, hardship is basically self-imposed, the result of bad policy decisions rejecting available natural gas solutions.
For a nation that leads the world in natural gas and oil production, it’s an embarrassment.
About The Author
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Previously, Mark was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor at an assortment of newspapers. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela have two grown children and six grandchildren.
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