May 312014

Cheryl Scammell

Cheryl Scammell

“There is a need for natural gas in New England. But not this pipeline. Not this time.” Cheryl Scammell told the Groton Board of Selectmen and more than two hundred people at a Tennessee Gas Pipeline Information Session Thursday evening.

Scammell was the first audience member to speak in the first local public discussion of a proposed 36-inch natural gas pipeline stretching from Albany, New York to Dracut, Massachusetts, and her opposition to the pipeline was applauded by most people at the meeting. The audience, generally, showed a high degree of skepticism or opposition to the “Northeast Expansion,” both to the project and its proposed route. The pipeline would pass through the north side of Groton, traversing public land owned by the Conservation Commission and Groton-Dunstable Regional School District (the high school campus), and private property including some owned by the Groton Conservation Trust.

Residents like Scammell, who live in or abut the proposed pipeline path, first learned about the pipeline when survey requests to allow Kinder Morgan contractors access to private property were left on their doorsteps in February. The company notified the Groton Conservation Commission and Groton Dunstable High School by letter the next week. Town officials tried without much success to get information from Kinder Morgan for several months.

Although town officials shared the information they have received from Kinder Morgan, the parent company Tennessee Gas, there were many more questions than answers posed at the meeting. Board of Selectmen Chairman Peter Cunningham suggested that many questions directed at the panelists, for which they didn’t have answers, should be answered by Kinder Morgan representatives when they meet with the Groton community on June 23, at 7 p.m. in the Lawrence Academy auditorium. Cunningham promised that the Thursday BoS meeting and the June 23 conference with the pipeline company were just the first of many public forums on the proposal. Similar meetings are taking place in communities from the Berkshires to Dracut.

According to its tentative schedule, Kinder Morgan hopes to have all permits in hand and begin construction in late 2016 or early 2017 and have it in service by November, 2018. Before that, the tentative route outlined in the survey form packages landowners and the town received is a preliminary route; a Kinder Morgan spokesman said that many changes are routinely made early in the planning process to narrow down options and determine a more exact route. In the announced schedule, Kinder Morgan would apply for permits with FERC by October 2014; a proposed route is part of that application.

Thursday evening began with presentations from Ken Hartledge, President of the Nashoba Conservation Trust; Kevin Kelly, Manager of Groton Electric Light Department (GELD), and Town Counsel, attorneys from Kopelman & Paige, David Doneski and Jackie Cowen.

Hartledge stated “By the government’s own sources, we have a short-term gas problem and a long-term energy problem that can be addressed with alternative energies and energy efficient conservation measures, without permanently altering miles of core wildlife habitat and outstanding water resources.”

The 129 mile pipeline route planned by energy transporter Kinder Morgan will go through Groton just south of the Pepperell border. An initial 100 foot clearing is required during construction of the 30-36 inch underground pipeline; after that, a 50 foot easement permanently maintained.

State Representative Sheila Harrington suggested the route may have been chosen because the mitigation of green spaces is cheaper than going through more populated areas. She told citizens opposed to the pipeline to express their views to Federal representatives, because after permission is given by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, (FERC) for the project, all the state can do is work with them to mitigate any damages to natural areas.

The Federal agency will do an extensive environmental impact study at that time. According to town counsel, by Massachusetts law, a company can petition for approval to survey without the need of public hearings or notification of property owners. Right-of-ways may be taken by eminent domain if FERC gives approval, and landowners can go to court if compensation cannot be negotiated.

Several residents expressed concern that the $2-3 billion costs of the pipeline, which would be paid for by Kinder Morgan, will be passed on to ratepayers. Kevin Kelly of GELD said that last winter, New England paid three times the price for natural gas last winter than the rest of the country paid, due in part to supply issues with the colder winter. “The price in western Pennsylvania and 80% of the country was 1/3 what we paid,” he wrote in an email. “Direct benefit to Groton ratepayers, if there had been adequate gas transmission this last winter, would have been $500,000 for the 12 coldest weeks.”

“By law, natural gas must first go toward residential heating, so for many of the colder days, gas plant generators sat idle. Oil was cheaper 57% of the days. GELD itself lost $500,000 last winter due to the natural gas situation,” he told the meeting. And he predicted that this coming winter will be more of the same.

“The closing of the Salem Harbor coal generator and the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant this year will mean the loss of over 1.2 gigawatts of power. The 1.6 gigawatt coal plant in Brayton Point is scheduled for closure by 2017. Peak demand in the winter is in the late afternoon/early evening when solar power is not available. Every megawatt of wind power must be backed up with a megawatt of natural gas. We need more natural gas and cost will become lower with increased supply,” he said.