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Mobilized to fight Kinder Morgan, opponents say they'll stay vigilant

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 21. 2016 9:03PM
During a march and protest in December to oppose the Northeast Energy Direct (NED) pipeline through downtown Concord to the New Hamphire State House. (Allegra Boverman/ Union Leader)

The Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline may be history, but the two-year battle over the project created a grassroots movement that hopes to influence energy policy in New Hampshire for years to come.

Thousands of citizens were mobilized and communities formed coalitions. They still have unfinished business regarding Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct proposal, and have set their sights on other energy-related initiatives with an eye toward promoting renewable energy and protecting private property rights.

“There’s a lot of work left to do,” said Katy Eiseman, founding president of the Pipeline Awareness Network (PLAN), the organization that has for the past two years coordinated the activities of dozens of opposition groups in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

“First, with respect to NED (Northeast Energy Direct) in particular, it’s not all over yet,” Eiseman said. “There are many loose ends to be tied up, including the fact that there is still an application pending at FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) and there are still state proceedings that have not been withdrawn or dismissed.”

A handful of New England natural gas utilities, including Liberty Utilities in New Hampshire, have been seeking regulatory approval for contracts to purchase gas on the NED pipeline, and those requests are still pending.

When asked if Kinder Morgan was going to withdraw its application with FERC, company spokesman Richard Wheatley would only say, “We are taking under advisement how best to proceed consistent with our contracts.”

Continuing the fight

PLAN and its associated groups are now turning more attention to the Access Northeast pipeline proposal — a $3 billion expansion of Spectra Energy’s Algonquin pipeline system in the eastern part of the New England region in partnership with Eversource, New Hampshire’s largest electric utility.

That project involves enlarging and extending an existing pipeline without nearly as much new right of way as NED, but it also calls for financing by electricity ratepayers. That’s what has groups like PLAN up in arms. They are concerned that if a precedent is set allowing natural gas pipelines to be paid for by electricity customers, Kinder Morgan will jump back into the picture.

“Access Northeast, even if NED is gone, is still out there, hanging over electric ratepayers across New England,” said Eiseman.

Eversource argues in defense of the Access Northeast financing proposal that it will benefit electric ratepayers in the long run, since most of the electricity in New England is generated by natural gas.

Changes at FERC?

PLAN and its many associated groups will continue to press for changes in how FERC handles pipeline projects.

A letter from 23 organizations representing 17 New Hampshire communities was recently sent to the state’s Congressional delegation, asking them to form a united front with other Northeastern representatives and senators to change FERC procedures.

They want to see full-scale evidentiary hearings and a comprehensive health impact study in pipeline applications, and an independent citizens advocate appointed in the proceedings.

“The letter goes into issues that are broader than NED itself,” says attorney Richard Husband of Litchfield, who drafted the letter and has testified at legislative hearings on pipeline-related bills as a member of NHPLAN.

“We’ve got 16 pipeline projects in the works in the Northeast,” he said. “All of these aren’t going to directly impact New Hampshire, but they tend to change as they go on, and there may well be tentacles reaching us as they move forward.”

Legislation advances

On the legislative front, Republican state Rep. Jim McConnell of Keene and state Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford are among lawmakers pressing ahead with two pipeline-related bills that on Thursday cleared a key Senate committee and are headed to a vote before the full Senate.

HB 1660, which provides protections for property owners against the use of eminent domain for gas pipeline projects, was recommended “ought to pass” as amended on a 4-1 vote of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The committee also endorsed HB 1148, although it was substantially amended from the House version. The House would have restricted a utility’s ability to seek gas pipeline funding at the expense of electric ratepayers.

As it heads for a vote before the full Senate, the bill now calls for a legislative committee to study a cap on natural gas pipeline costs that can be passed along to electric ratepayers.

“We want these laws on the books in the event that someone else has the bright idea that the perfect place to put an underground pipeline is in the Granite State,” said McConnell.

Community coalition

Brookline Town Manager Tad Putney, chair of the N.H. Municipal Pipeline Coalition, said the organization of 15 towns will continue its twice-monthly meetings.

“I think there is still an opportunity for the state to take important steps that will protect property rights moving forward,” he said, “not necessarily from the Kinder Morgan pipeline, but any future pipeline. I also think the potential for electric utilities looking to bill ratepayers for gas pipelines is another thing we need to be mindful of.”

The Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire, which represents some of the state’s largest employers, has been lobbying hard for approval of any pipeline or transmission project to offset New Hampshire’s high electricity prices. BIA President Jim Roche managed to find a silver lining in the Kinder Morgan decision.

“This might increase pressure on regulators to approve the remaining infrastructure projects to help alleviate the high cost of electricity in New Hampshire and New England,” he said. “I think it puts additional pressure on them to approve something. The problem has not gone away.”

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