FITCHBURG -- Amid growing concerns from residents in many Massachusetts towns, representatives from Kinder Morgan and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission insist they will take all feedback into consideration when filing and reviewing the company's application to expand the Tennessee Gas Pipeline in the Northeast.
Allen Fore, the director of public affairs for Kinder Morgan, said the proposed pipeline has the potential to lower, or at least stabilize, some of the high energy costs residents in the area pay.
The pipeline, he said, would open up new supplies of what Kinder Morgan calls cheap, domestic natural gas while expanding a pipeline they feel has become "inadequate" to support the region's current needs.
The pipeline would begin in Wright, N.Y., west of Schenectady, and end in Dracut.
Tamara Young-Allen, a spokeswoman for FERC, said public comment is imperative in the process and will weigh heavily on the minds of the commissioners before a decision is made.
"The main thing is, the public is involved all the way through," she said. "We will conduct scoping sessions, or information sessions, to address environmental concerns and anything else."
The comments, questions and concerns raised are "very important" to the commissioners, she said.
"It's all part of the whole process," Young-Allen said. "That's why we've developed the prefiling period. The commission looks at all comments, and all comments are treated equally.
During the information sessions, she said, there will be opportunities for people to provide oral and written comments.
"We'll get comments along the way," she said. "The whole point of the prefiling is to hear from the public what concerns they have."
Once the formal application is submitted to FERC, its staff will conduct a formal environmental review, according to Young-Allen. That review will also be available for public review, she said.
"Those comments will be taken into consideration," she said. "When the final document is available, it will be published for public viewing, but it is not open for public communication."
Kinder Morgan plans to prefile its application next month, and that will allow an environmental review to be completed. Public town-hall meetings have been held for much of the year, according to Fore, and will continue throughout the process. Any environmental impacts that come up will be resolved before filing the formal application with the state.
Once the application is filed, a number of open houses will be conducted in various towns, and the public is encouraged to attend and participate in the environmental and certificate application process, according to Richard Wheatley, a spokesman for Tennessee Gas.
A member of FERC often attends the open houses.
The commission may then incorporate proposed mitigation measures to the project design from comments received, he said.
"It is always our goal to be courteous to landowners and specifically those who have given us use of their land," Fore said.
He said FERC is "very strict" and "comprehensive" in incorporating as many mitigation measures as possible into a plan to please residents.
Some residents, like Roberta Flashman of Ashby, have a hard time believing that concerns raised by residents will actually be implemented into the final plan.
To date, she said, she believes many environmental concerns have not adequately addressed.
She also still has concerns about expanding the pipeline because it has the potential to increase the region's dependency on fossil fuels.
"I think we should be moving to renewables rather than fossil fuels," she said. "If they keep saying that gas is a bridge fuel and we need it for a short time, they shouldn't be building an infrastructure. Truck the gas in. It produces as many, if not more, jobs."
No 'ax to grind'
John Rosenkranz, an independent energy analyst from Massachusetts, said that both fossil fuels and renewable energy sources are going to play active roles in the future of energy resources.
"I think you would have to say all these energy sources are necessary and expanding," Rosenkranz said. "The best source of new energy in the near term appears to be natural-gas generation."
He keeps close tabs on various projects, including the pipeline expansion, and makes various suggestions to his clients to meet their needs.
"I don't have an ax to grind on any of these projects," Rosenkranz said. "My understanding is, there is a need for some additional pipeline capacity into New England, primarily one that provides access to the growing production in the Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia area. Whether it's this project, another one, or a combo of projects, that still needs to be determined."
Rosenkranz said there is another pipeline being proposed by Spectra Energy for other parts of New England. Called the Algonquin Gas Transmission Pipeline, it is currently under review by FERC and is expected to be in service sometime in 2016.
Despite the projected increase in the natural-gas market, he said it's not always easy to say "how much is enough and how much is too much."
"It depends on the time frame you are looking at and the fact that New England needs more pipeline capacity, not just because there is growing demand but also because some of the supplies New England has been getting are either becoming less available or becoming more expensive," he added.
He said New England traditionally has gotten much of its natural gas shipped in, but as more natural gas becomes available in the United States, the region's previous source of gas is becoming more expensive.
Another common area for importing gas to the region is off the shores of Nova Scotia, he said.
"There was a large pipeline built to bring that gas to the New England area, and that has been a big source of supply to this area," Rosenkranz said. "Unfortunately, those deals have a finite shelf life, and production from that area is expected to decline."
He believes FERC will take public comments under advisement during the approval process, saying the public's concerns are something "regulators are required to take seriously."
"They're going to trade off the negative impact on individual landowners for the best interest of the region as a whole," he said. "The negative impact on landowners is certainly important, but that has to be weighed against the need for energy in all of New England."
According to a recent Boston Globe article, developers proposing projects like the pipeline must weigh the fact that many coal- and nuclear-powered electricity-generating plants have recently closed or will close.
The Salem Harbor coal-burning power plant closed in May, Vermont Yankee nuclear plant is expected to close at the end of the year, and the Brayton Point coal plant in Somerset will go offline in 2017.
Pending approval by FERC, it is anticipated that the project will be in service by November 2018 and the additional gas supply will be available that winter.
Proof of demand
The Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. and Kinder Morgan must prove to FERC that the project is being proposed because of a need for increased demand, said Wheatley, the Tennessee Gas spokesman.
The final route for the proposed pipeline project has not been determined, and it is likely Kinder Morgan will come up with alternative plans as well, according to Fore, but those routes have not been developed yet.
If constructed, all rights of way will constantly be patrolled, and the route will be remotely monitored around the clock, he said.
If FERC determines that Kinder Morgan needs to run a piece of pipeline over private property and the owner refuses to negotiate an agreement, the company has the right to take an easement by eminent domain, according to Kinder Morgan representative Jim Hartman.
Under that easement, Kinder Morgan would have the right to remove any out buildings, barns, trees or other above-ground objects in the process of installing the pipeline.
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