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LETTERS

The AG, the DPU, the industry, and the Future of Gas

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Gas companies and the state aren’t being clear about how much pipe work will cost

As reporter Sabrina Shankman details, at the core of the gas companies’ proposed solution to our climate crisis is a massive effort to replace aging and leaking pipes across the state, paid for by a surcharge on customer bills (“Plan to phase out natural gas favors utilities, Healey says,” Page A1, May 14). Gas companies want to refurbish these pipes so that they can blend fracked gas with so-called alternative gases such as biomethane and hydrogen.

Would it be reasonable for the gas companies and the state Department of Public Utilities to tell us how much this pipe replacement work will cost? Of course, but they haven’t. The Globe article refers to a $20 billion cost, but the likely cost is $40 billion.

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That’s $23,500 per gas customer — enough to install a cold climate heat pump and weatherize a customer’s building shell. Or enough, in total, to electrify the entire MBTA and revamp all stations for level boarding and Americans with Disabilities Act access, plus build the North-South rail link, according to an engineer at this month’s hearings.

More than 70 citizens joined forces to present formidable public testimony to the DPU demanding transparency and better analysis. The full opportunity cost of the gas companies’ plans must be put on the table and not buried or ignored by the agency. How else can a careful decision be made about our pressing energy future?

Dorie Seavey

Boston

The writer is a research economist on climate issues who conducted a study of the pipeline replacement program last year on behalf of Gas Leaks Allies.


Healey is right to reject results of DPU report

I support Attorney General Maura Healey’s call for the state to reject the gas utilities’ proposals for the future of our energy system.

Asked to develop a plan to phase out fossil fuels, the gas companies responded with proposals that support their current business model, relying on unproven and expensive technologies like hydrogen and synthetic natural gas. As a ratepayer, I don’t want to foot the bill for these non-solutions to our climate crisis.

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As Sabrina Shankman reported, numerous officials and advocates voiced their concerns and opposition to the utilities’ proposals at a recent public hearing. The Legislature needs to listen to their voices and take action to ensure a truly viable path to net-zero greenhouse emissions.

Susan Keane

Arlington


Lawmakers need to move swiftly to curb industry

Attorney General Maura Healey got it exactly right that “gas utilities have asked the DPU to approve the spending of ratepayer money on untested and costly technologies to maintain their century-old business plan.”

These utilities’ proposals are horrific for our health and climate and based on dangerous misinformation, which they sell with terms like “renewable natural gas.”

Sabrina Shankman’s story covered the controversy well. I’m glad she reported that the DPU plans to release a final plan this year. However, I question Shankman’s assertion (likely from a state senator) that a “bill currently pending in the Legislature would delay proceedings until a new governor is elected.” The Legislature must take strong decisive action this year, including prohibiting hydrogen and other new gases from the gas distribution system to buildings. It is not safe to wait for a new governor; given the political power of the gas industry, these moves need to be stopped now.

Lee Ketelsen

Acton


Risk of explosions is unacceptable

I wrote a letter to the editor about the need to transition off natural gas in December 2018 in the aftermath of the Merrimack Valley gas explosions. Not much has changed since then. The gas utilities are still proposing explosive gases to heat our homes as they respond to the request to reinvent themselves. As I wrote then, “Renewable natural gas will be no less explosive than conventional natural gas. The same goes for hydrogen.”

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A 2021 British study found that heating a home with hydrogen instead of natural gas would carry four times the risk of explosion. It seems the utilities cannot conceive of a way to heat our homes more safely.

It does not matter whether the natural gas is produced in a fracking field or a landfill. The attorney general is right to reject the state’s proposal.

Karen Martin

Boxford


Plain and simple, science doesn’t negotiate

Kudos to the attorney general for rejecting the laughable Future of Gas report produced by the gas industry, and to Sabrina Shankman for her always clear and thoughtful reporting on climate.

But a note on terminology: Shankman attributes the concerns about the gas companies’ plans to “advocates and the state’s own road map,” but it is actually science itself that disagrees with the plans. Advocates and activists merely represent what physics is saying; it’s not a question of opinion. The plan of the gas industry spells environmental disaster.

True, economics and other issues need consideration. But physics doesn’t negotiate.

Susan Donaldson

Northampton


What was Healey thinking, trusting DPU in the first place?

It is intriguing to watch the attorney general maneuvering as she runs for governor. Now Maura Healey has filed a 106-page document strongly criticizing the Department of Public Utilities. In 2020, however, she picked the DPU to conduct a review of the gas industry. Did she not recognize what many of us knew — that the DPU does not have the competence to make such a review and is too embedded in the industry to be objective?

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Called the Future of Gas, the review has been the failure you might expect: many meetings with stakeholders, lots of consultants, thousands of dollars spent, and an effort that has largely petered out and is now ignored.

But the AG has given us a report full of shopworn principles and platitudinous recommendations. And when she gets on a specific subject, she winces. In talking about adding hydrogen to natural gas to heat our homes, she says the technical limitations, the cost, and the degree to which a new gas plant would be required are not fully understood and remain uncertain.

I beg to differ. We know we should not ever use hydrogen to heat our homes, because it would cost more, would corrode the pipes, and might blow us to kingdom come.

As we aim to achieve the Commonwealth’s climate goals and equity priorities, it is time for us to question the DPU’s directing the alignment of the regulatory framework for gas utilities. It might be appropriate for the Legislature to establish a task force or similar body with full capability and industry independence to provide guidance here.

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G. Lee Humphrey

Boston


De-fossilization is a key to achieving our climate goals

Attorney General Maura Healey states that the DPU should prioritize climate goals over the health of utilities, but her negative statements on biofuels from landfill emissions undermine some of the very facilities that are needed to achieve climate goals. Today, 21 existing Massachusetts landfill gas destruction facilities and anaerobic digestion facilities are collecting and destroying methane that would otherwise be emitted to the atmosphere. These facilities, which offset fossil fuel use by using resources that would otherwise be wasted, provide environmental and social benefits that are well understood.

The facilities are a superb example of de-fossilization, which is a critical part of progress toward achieving net-zero carbon emissions. Unfortunately, Healey’s plan, as cited in the Globe article, is so focused on theoretical decarbonization that it fails to recognize the real value of de-fossilization, and thereby undermines practical aspects of the plans for achieving climate goals.

George H. Aronson

Principal

CommonWealth Resource Management Corp.

Sharon