Business

Controversial New England gas pipeline plan scaled back

Kinder Morgan Inc. is scaling back the scope of its controversial plan to build a network of natural gas pipelines stretching from Western Massachusetts, through southern New Hampshire, and into the Merrimack Valley, because it cannot find enough customers.

In a filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Tuesday, the Houston company said it is dropping plans for a nearly 15-mile spur, or lateral line, through 156 properties in seven Massachusetts towns — Bolton, Berlin, Boylston, Northborough, West Boylston, Shrewsbury, and Worcester. The company is also eliminating plans for a one-mile spur in Connecticut.

The cutbacks do not affect Kinder Morgan’s larger proposal to build a 64-mile main gas line through 30 other towns in Massachusetts, starting along the New York border in Hancock, then snaking its way through Hinsdale and northwest to Northfield before heading into Southern New Hampshire, mostly following existing rights-of-way along utility lines in the two states.

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The pipeline dips back into Massachusetts and ends in Dracut. Kinder Morgan’s plan includes 37 miles of additional lateral pipelines running off of that main line.

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The elimination of the planned “North Worcester Lateral” is another alteration to Kinder Morgan’s plan, which has faced intense opposition from residents, conservationists, and politicians in Western and Central Massachusetts. Late last year, the company was forced to revise the original route for the pipeline.

This time, Kinder Morgan said the changes are the result of not having enough potential utility and other large natural gas customers to justify building the smaller pipeline into Worcester.

“We just don’t have the customers,” said Allen Fore, vice president of government affairs at Kinder Morgan, owner of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline network, which crisscrosses Southern New England.

Fore stressed that Kinder Morgan is committed to building the main pipeline, which could bring more than 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas — enough to heat 20,000 homes for a year — into the state from shale fields in Pennsylvania.

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National Grid, Columbia Gas, and Berkshire Gas are among the utilities that have signed long-term contracts to buy natural gas from Kinder Morgan, assuming its main pipeline is built.

This fall, Kinder Morgan plans to file a final pipeline proposal with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has final say over interstate pipelines. Proponents of new pipelines say that New England desperately needs to import more natural gas to reduce its high energy costs.

Opponents counter that pipelines would rip up properties along their path. Pipelines would not be needed if the state stepped up conservation and renewable energy efforts, opponents say.

Elaine Mroz, a Lunenburg resident and opponent of all of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline proposals, said she is not surprised the company is dropping the Worcester extension.

“I never understood why they proposed it in the first place,” she said.

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But she stressed that eliminating the line is not going to reduce opposition to Kinder Morgan’s overall plan.

“They’re still committed to making this happen, and we’re still committed to opposing it,” Mroz said.

Kinder Morgan’s plan is one of many New England energy projects under consideration.

For example, Spectra Energy Corp., another Texas company, has teamed up with the utilities Eversource Energy (formerly NStar and Northeast Utilities) and National Grid to expand the existing Algonquin gas pipeline system in the region. Known as Access Northeast, that project includes expanding the capacity of the Maritimes & Northeast line, which carries liquefied natural gas from ships anchored off Eastern Canada.

Several companies are proposing transmission lines to connect the region to Quebec’s hydroelectric power.

Jay Fitzgerald can be reached at jayfitzmedia@gmail.com.