Move toward gas is wrong for this region, by Patricia Martin
It weighs on me.
In Concord, legislators voted to shut down Concord Steam, a cogeneration biomass plant that provided electricity and district steam to 180 commercial, municipal, school and state buildings in downtown Concord. Those buildings are being converted to Liberty Utilities’ natural gas. The price tag for converting state buildings is $25 million.
In Pelham, Liberty plans to drill beneath Beaver Brook to bring natural gas to the municipal buildings. The Pelham Energy Committee supports the plan, based on the now discredited claim that natural gas is a bridge fuel and is better for the environment than burning oil for heat. Although burning natural gas produces less carbon than oil, the methane released in producing and transporting the fracked gas is 86 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon.
In Keene, a major natural gas infrastructure project is underway to expand service. The city is faced with an aging plant and safety concerns. This is the same scenario that pushed Concord Steam into a death spiral.
I don’t know what the economic considerations are for Keene, but for Concord and Pelham, the supporters of these plans are getting their data and assumptions from Liberty Utilities. What alternatives to making a 20-year investment in fossil fuel infrastructure were considered?
Many of us fought for Concord to consider other, greener alternatives than shutting down Concord Steam. We did not get a lot of support from the community of affected businesses and nonprofit agencies. Even the greenest customers of Concord Steam told us variations of: “It’s a done deal. They already use natural gas instead of biomass on most days at Concord Steam. It’s just one project and the community needs it.”
Aren’t we supposed to be transitioning away from fossil fuels?
Some of the people who should be standing up and asking questions are intimidated by the fact that they have friends working on these projects or who own businesses that may benefit from cheap gas. They rationalize that they should just let this one go because it’s small and couldn’t possibly bring more pipelines to New England. Similar scenarios are playing out all over the Northeast and are exactly the way new pipelines are justified.
At least ask the question: “Do we have an economic alternative to using more gas?” The answer may surprise and inspire people to find a better option.