$3 Billion Natural Gas Pipeline Plan Halted due to Loss of Funding, Permits

Major energy companies Eversource and National Grid, alongside pipeline operator Enbridge, announced on June 29 that they notified the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that the three companies would suspend the permitting process for their natural gas pipeline project.

The approximately $3.2 billion project, known as Access Northeast, allegedly needs more time to create a stronger political support for a proposed tariff on electric ratepayers, according to oil news-analysis company, OilandGas360. The original curated legislation would “allow the costs to be shouldered by electricity customers,” and was met with a large amount of backlash.

“Once we work through the legislative [support], we’ll be able to reengage the FERC filing process and be back on track,” said Brian McKerlie, a vice president at Enbridge.

The companies argue the pipeline expansion plan is needed to bring overall cheaper natural gas to the Northeast’s power plants, and would significantly make colder days for the powerplants easier, noting that the demand rises during the Winter months.  

According to The Boston Globe, partners hoped to start the construction for the Access Northeast late next year, noting that the 125-mile project mostly involves “replacing pipes with larger ones in Massachusetts and Connecticut to expand the capacity of Enbridge’s Algonquin Gas Transmission line”. The plan aimed to serve around 60 percent of the New England power sector.

Attorney Jon N. Bonsall of Boston-based law firm Keegan Werlin represented Algonquin, and told public officials in an email that it is “no longer in the interest of stakeholders” to continue federal review of the project.  

Bonsall also wrote that Algonquin will restart the FERC process “when the desired policy alignments are achieved”.

The plan originally estimated that the total construction time of the pipeline would be around three years long, and would mainly involve precincts west and south of Boston, from West Boylston down to Canton. The Boston Globe reported that now the timing for the plan is unclear.

Natural gas expansion has become a massive hot-button issue in Massachusetts within the last year, with opponents fighting pipelines at every corner with protests and rallies in Boston. Critics of the plan and of expanding say less expensive and more environmentally friendly solutions are available.

“We are on track to do just fine without a giant new pipeline with a 20-year contract and a huge price tag,” Claire Miller told WBUR, as part of the environmental group Toxics Action Center.

Last Summer, the state Supreme Judicial Court turned down a plan put forward by the Baker administration to have electricity ratepayers pick up the tab for the pipeline expansion. The ruling was that it was not permissible under state law, putting other similar proposals on hold in the area.  

“That unanimous vote in the Senate last year, that’s a tough one,” said Dan Dolan, president of the New England Power Generators Association. “I don’t know how you convince them. And frankly, the politics have moved more in that direction [of opposing natural gas].”

According to the Associated Press, both Eversource and National Grid claim the pipeline could potentially reduce electric bills by nearly $1 billion across New England, which would cover the entire tariff and then some.

In addition to supplying 975,000 dekatherms per day to power plants in several states, Access Northeast pipeline would also include an “expanded liquefied natural gas facility on Eversource property in Acushnet”, the Boston Business Journal reported. For reference, 1 dekatherm powers approximately 1,000 cubic feet.

Access Northeast was first proposed by Spectra Energy Partners, which in February was acquired by Enbridge in a $28 billion deal.

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