When gas pipeline explosions and fires killed one person, injured 25, and caused 0ver $800 million in property damage this September in Massachusetts, Connecticut state legislators called for an independent investigation to determine the extent of leak-prone gas pipelines and to ensure we have appropriate inspection procedures to prevent a similar disaster from happening here. These concerns are real and we must have answers.
We also need to ask ourselves if we need more gas pipelines at all, and if so, who should pay for them?
Most Connecticut ratepayers would be surprised to learn that a Connecticut law, enacted in 2015, allows electric utilities like Eversource to construct expanded gas pipelines, and pass the costs to ratepayers — along with a healthy profit margin. When the tax was passed in 2015, only a handful of legislators raised concerns and voted against the legislation.
Connecticut residents currently pay the highest electric rates among all 48 continental states, according to a report released recently by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The number one reason for these high rates is our region’s over-reliance on natural gas, according to the report.
As if that’s not bad enough, Eversource has been pushing to build more gas pipelines, including the Access Northeast Pipeline. This gigantic pipe, running through our state, would cost approximately $6.6 billion, with about $2 billion coming from Connecticut ratepayers through future increases in our bills. Despite the recent tragedy in Massachusetts, Eversource refuses to give up on expanded pipelines in Connecticut and surrounding states. And three interstate gas pipeline expansions have already been completed in our state!
The evidence against the need for new fossil fuel pipelines is clear, according to many major studies. One report, released by Sierra Club Connecticut and CT Fund for the Environment, conducted by Synapse Energy Economics, shows conclusively that new natural gas pipelines are not needed in our state.
With demand for energy expected to be flat between now and 2030, the The Synapse study found that New England’s use of natural gas will actually decrease by 41 percent from 2015 levels by 2030. That much gas is going to be forced out of the region due to the legal requirements for more renewable energy and less greenhouse gases. The study said, “even existing gas pipelines may operate under capacity.”
This may be why Eversource and others won’t invest their own money in building new pipelines. They want consumers to pay through a surcharge on their bills – a pipeline tax– which has to be paid whether the pipelines are needed or not. The scheme was rejected by Massachusetts’ highest court and New Hampshire public utilities regulators. In its unanimous ruling, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said the pipeline tax would “re-expose ratepayers to the types of financial risks from which the Legislature sought to protect them.”
But here in Connecticut, the pipeline tax is alive and well. During the last legislative session, renewable energy activists, legislators and leading environmental groups joined together to overturn the tax, but were unsuccessful. Similar legislation is likely to be introduced when the legislature convenes a new session in January.
Instead of bowing to the pound-foolish and environmentally risky expediency of fossil fuels, it is time to push for more renewable energy to drive down our current dependence on natural gas. Connecticut was recently rated fifth in the country for energy efficiency and ninth for its installed solar power. We are heading in the right direction and we can do even better.
Connecticut consumers do not need higher energy bills. And our communities cannot afford the risk of more dangerous pipelines under and around our homes, schools and recreational areas.
State Rep. Gregg Haddad, D-Mansfield, and Martha Klein, Chair of Sierra Club Connecticut. Haddad was one of 11 members of the House of Representatives to oppose the Pipeline Tax (Public Act 15-107) becoming law in 2015.