• ECHO Action Editor

Keene City Council to take stance on pipeline costs

"Keene city councilors are taking steps to oppose a plan that would allow electric ratepayers to bear the cost of a new pipeline project. Eversource Energy is asking the N.H. Public Utilities Commission to approve a contract permitting the company to buy natural gas off the Access Northeast pipeline expansion. Cheshire Medical Center: 2016 Walk-In Care 22149 - ROS - MB - instory If approved, the contract would set a precedent allowing electric companies to charge customers for the construction of a natural gas pipeline, through a tax called the distribution cost recovery rate tariff. The tariff would be a way for electric utilities to recover costs from a pipeline project by billing customers for it. Opponents of the contract have argued such an approval would put an unfair burden on customers and would harm the New England region’s efforts to explore energy-efficient and renewable-energy options. They also argue allowing companies to bill customers for such projects is against the law. The City Council voted unanimously June 16 for a resolution opposing a tariff that would fund a private natural gas pipeline. It would still have to vote on a final resolution to make its opposition official. The council’s five-member planning, licenses and development committee had unanimously recommended the council support drafting the resolution. The council’s decision came about a month after the developers of the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline withdrew that project’s federal application, setting the project back by years if they ever decide to pursue it again. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. LLC, a subsidiary of energy giant Kinder Morgan, had proposed building the 419-mile interstate pipeline to carry fracked natural gas from the shale fields of northern Pennsylvania to a hub in Dracut, Mass. Along the way, it was slated to pass through 18 towns in southern New Hampshire, including the Cheshire County towns of Fitzwilliam, Richmond, Rindge, Troy and Winchester. Officials in those towns began efforts to oppose the project soon after it became clear in late 2014 that they were in the path of the pipeline. Keene officials remained on the sidelines of the region-wide issue through March, which is when some city residents and members of the five communities asked the council to take a position on the project. After the project’s application was withdrawn, Ward 3 Councilor Terry M. Clark — who pushed councilors to take a stand on the pipeline — worked with fellow Ward 3 Councilor David C. Richards to propose the council take a position on the tariff matter. Clark told the City Council on June 16 that he was surprised to learn earlier this year that electric ratepayers might have to foot the bill for the Northeast Energy Direct project or any other pipeline project coming through New Hampshire. He said he thought the matter had been resolved in 1979, when the N.H. Legislature enacted a law essentially overturning the N.H. Supreme Court’s 1961 decision to allow Public Service of New Hampshire to get compensation for construction work while it was in progress. “That’s the old devil coming back to haunt us,” he said. Electric companies shouldn’t be charging their customers for projects investors don’t want to take chances on, he said. Jay V. Kahn, city councilor at-large, said he concurred with Clark as long as the companies were being exclusively dependent on ratepayers to fund projects, and investors weren’t sharing in the costs. “I can’t imagine a utility expansion or future investment that doesn’t involve some ratepayer implication,” he said. The Access Northeast project seeks to provide New England with access to fracked natural gas from the shale fields of northeastern Pennsylvania through the Algonquin Gas Transmission system’s existing connections and new interconnections to pipelines in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Algonquin is a subsidiary of Houston-based Spectra Energy. The company is also proposing the construction of a new liquefied natural gas storage facility in Acushnet, Mass., as part of the project."

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