Opinion: “Well, it’s complicated”

Rep. By Kermit Williams
Friday, November 6, 2015

As chair of the Energy Facilities Advisory Committee created by the Nashua Regional Planning Commission, I have spent much of this year learning about New Hampshire’s energy issues, and specifically, the Northeast Energy Direct natural gas transmission pipeline proposed by Kinder Morgan. I am asked many questions, but most often I hear, “Is this pipeline any good for New Hampshire?” My answer is “Well, it’s complicated.”

What isn’t complicated is the impact the NED pipeline will have on the small towns of our region along the proposed route. Too rural to justify natural gas distribution, they will suffer the land taking, the construction disruption, and the concerns about safety without access to the fuel that runs under their feet. In more densely settled areas, like the cities of Nashua and Manchester, Liberty Utilities, the state’s largest local distribution company, delivers gas for heating and industrial uses. Liberty, who has signed up for a portion of NED gas if the pipeline is built, says customer costs will drop as much as 50 percent.

Next, my questioner will typically ask, “Isn’t most of this gas just going to be exported to Europe?” That’s where the picture gets even more complicated. Kinder Morgan doesn’t sell gas; it’s better to think of them like railroad operators. They provide transportation for a commodity. Customers buy gas from a producer in Pennsylvania, have it put in the pipeline, and pull the same amount of gas out somewhere down the line. The fact that they don’t get the same molecules of gas that they bought is immaterial.

Like the railroads, pipelines can run partial loads, but would prefer to be full. LDCs, which have long-term contracts for gas delivery, need all their gas for the winter, but try to sell the excess capacity in the summer. Therefore, the Europeans could use NED to get gas to New England; the problem then is how to get it to Europe.

Natural gas can be liquefied (LNG) and shipped in tankers across the ocean. An LNG export terminal has been proposed for Nova Scotia. There is a pipeline connecting New Hampshire and Canada, the Portland Natural Gas transmission line. The problem is it’s in use, supplying gas from Canada to many parts of Maine and some towns in northern New Hampshire, like Berlin. For Berlin, Germany, to get NED gas, deals would have to be made to use the pipeline the other way. Meanwhile there are dozens of LNG export terminals being built in places that have more direct access to gas, and therefore have lower delivery costs. I think the upshot of all this is that New Hampshire buyers would have first access to gas — if there’s a way to deliver it to them — and at a much lower price than today. If no one in New England uses the capacity, it would go to the highest bidder, and nothing fits the laws of supply and demand more than commodities. Gas buyers everywhere will look for the best deal, and avoid complications that raise the price.

At this point, my questioner says, “Can’t we just get rid of fossil fuels altogether and use renewable energy?” This, of course, is the future we all want. But there are complications along the way. The most abundant renewable resource in New Hampshire is wind, but putting up windmills encounters much of the same resistance as gas and electric transmission lines. Solar power is more acceptable, but the cost is not competitive. Solar panels installed today qualify for federal and state subsidies, and can be connected to the grid through net metering, where the utility buys the excess for not only the generation value, but also the transmission cost. Since the utility still has to transmit the power, this amounts to a third subsidy. All that just makes solar competitive with today’s high electric rates.

The vision of a no-carbon renewable future ignores another big roadblock: The energy produced is all electric. Few New Hampshire homes — less than 10 percent — run on just electricity. Not many will convert while the energy costs are so high.

All of this means that when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission receives Kinder Morgan’s application to build the pipeline in a few days, they will likely find that while it’s bad for the Monadnock region, it’s good for New England, and issue a Certificate of Necessity and Convenience.

Does all this mean I’m in favor of NED? Hell, no! As a selectman in Wilton, and a state representative whose district is on the pipeline route, I recognize the significant impact and minimal benefit to our region. However, I want to be clear-eyed, and recognize what’s likely to happen. That’s why I have written a bill for the next legislative session to require that compression stations — one is planned for New Ipswich — be externally powered, reducing emissions, noise and potential dangers. That means that the compressor station would be powered through electricity brought in from the grid as opposed to burning its own gas to generate power for the turbines. The emissions rules for compressor stations generating their own power are not as strict as electric generation facilities, which must scrub emissions.

I believe that mitigating the effects of the pipeline is our best path. Will it work? Who knows? It’s complicated!

Rep. Kermit Williams (D-Wilton) represents Wilton, Greenville, Lyndeborough and Francestown. In this viewpoint, Williams speaks for himself and not the Nashua Regional Planning Commission.

This op-ed was sourced from the Tuesday, November 17, 2015 Monadnock Ledger. It is reposted here with permission of the author.

See our post here for Mason’s connection to NRPC and its EFAC subcommittee.

3 comments for “Opinion: “Well, it’s complicated”

  1. applehill2015
    November 18, 2015 at 19:43

    The author should read Mass AG Maura Healy’s
    Filing that There is No New England need !
    Purported need is smoke & mirrors

    • Wentworth
      November 19, 2015 at 12:28

      The Mass. Attorney General’s document can be found here.

      When reading it, one needs to keep in mind that euphemisms like “market-driven” and “energy efficiency measures” will also impact our pocket books. Or in other words, the price of energy may be going up no matter what. One probably also needs an engineering degree to cut through the AG’s fog; both sides are using imprecise crystal balls.

      A union leader article here includes a few selected responses from Kinder Morgan and various other organizations.

  2. cloudnavigator
    November 19, 2015 at 13:01

    Well, there is no such thing as “mitigation” when it comes to the proposed NED pipeline. It is all bad, and while it may appear “complicated” it can be easily shown that the sheer volume of fracked shale gas which would be shipped through this pipeline is not needed in NH. The “complicated” part is how FERC became “captured” by the utilities it was designed to regulate, and how it has managed to insulate itself from control by our elected government officials and other agencies like the EPA. There is a severe political problem with “commissions” like FERC who are not answerable to anyone we have elected to represent us at the state or federal level. FERC is a problem because it is has acquired/inherited powers in the 1938 Gas Act, which it should not be exercising in the 21st century. Time for our elected representatives to change or repeal the legislation that enabled FERC.

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