Eugene Sullivan,Mass. Public Utility Commissioner, 1999-2006
Last winter we faced record high prices for natural gas, and we already know that companies have filed sharp increases for this winter. We simply are unable to access the natural gas we need to run our electric power plants and to provide fuel to heat our homes.
In 2000, 15 percent of our electricity was generated from natural gas fueled power plants, Last winter, that number rose to 52 percent. I was a public utility commissioner when we started that shift. We moved from dirty oil and coal generators to cleaner natural gas power plants. But we only started the job when we created this extraordinary demand and didn’t provide a drop of additional fuel to supply that demand.
There are principled arguments in opposition to pipeline expansion. Protecting the environment and advancing sustainable energy are admirable and important long-term goals. However, my immediate concern is on the human toll of pursuing such goals. Exorbitant electric and heating costs are not just the price we pay to advance lofty goals; they are a crippling burden to families that truly cannot afford the luxury of setting society’s agenda. They need reliable power at the lowest possible cost.
When I served as a public utility commissioner in Massachusetts, a woman testified at a rate increase hearing. She explained that her family had a limited income and that her daughter was very ill. She told us that when she sat down to divide her monthly expenses, she had three big budget items: food for her family, medicine for her daughter, and her utility costs. Each month, this woman was forced to undergo the agonizing process of picking two out of three of those items, and leaving one basic need unmet. There are thousands of families just like hers that face this challenge every month in Massachusetts and throughout New England.
We have a solution to this problem. Two projects have come forward, one to upgrade the capacity of an existing line and another to build a new pipeline from the western part of the state to Dracut and give us direct access to the shale gas reserves in Pennsylvania.
As a region, we need to support both of these projects so that New England will no longer have the highest energy costs in the country and to help struggling families get relief from this energy cost crisis.
Gregory M. Sheldon, President of Sheldon Collaborative, an economic and workforce development consulting firm
To date, 35 local communities across Massachusetts have voted against the plan by Kinder Morgan to construct a 36-inch high pressure natural gas pipeline, taking land by eminent domain and clear-cutting a 100-foot-wide, 127-mile-long swath across the northern tier of Massachusetts: Needlessly threatening farms, environmentally sensitive habitats, rivers, and wetlands.
One would think a project of such enormous consequence to so many communities would be offset by even larger benefits; however, the reality is very different. Here are a few things you won’t hear from Kinder Morgan:
■Bringing in more gas does not equate to lower prices. In fact, if any of this gas is destined for export, it will actually contribute to higher gas prices for all of us while providing windfall profits to Kinder Morgan.
■Building this $4 billion pipeline is not needed to alleviate so-called pipeline constraints that occur during the coldest 30 days of winter. In fact, better use of existing gas resources, such as LNG, are sufficient to meet these peak period demands.
■Demand-side solutions and other energy infrastructure projects underway can meet future demand.
■Kinder Morgan’s claims to job creation pale in comparison to the clean energy industry, which has added nearly 30,000 permanent jobs in Massachusetts since 2010.
■Some analysts view the shale gas boom as a “bubble” that will leave us with overbuilt infrastructure in a matter of years, not decades.
Local communities across the Commonwealth should be outraged that a $100 billion company from Texas would have the arrogance to draw a straight line though one of our most pristine regions. For those who say, “Well, it’s not in my backyard,” the truth is this region of the state is everyone’s backyard, whether you live in a town along the proposed route or in Salem, Boston, or the Cape.
As citizens, we take pride in knowing the Grand Canyon, the Grand Tetons, and the Cape Cod National Seashore are out there and will remain unspoiled. Someone who does not know — or worse, chooses to ignore — the unique character of this region should not be literally “permitted” to run roughshod over its future.Globe correspondent Brenda Buote solicited opinions for this exchange. She can be reached at email@example.com.