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Environmental group criticizes Berkshire Gas pipeline investment

A Massachusetts environmental coalition has called for authorities to look into an investment by Berkshire Gas in a pipeline that it would buy gas from.

Northeast Energy Solutions has asked the Massachusetts attorney general and federal authorities to investigate the participation of Berkshire Gas’s parent company in a controversial natural gas pipeline that would cross Western Massachusetts. The advocacy group accused the United Illuminating Co., Berkshire Gas’s owner, of hiding its financial interests, a charge the company denied.

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In late July, United Illuminating said it would take a small role in developing the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, a 188-mile gas pipeline that has encountered stiff opposition in the Western Massachusetts communities it would cross. Previously, Berkshire Gas had signed on to buy around 36 million cubic feet of gas a day once the pipeline is built. Currently, the company isn’t making any new gas hook-ups in the Western Massachusetts communities it serves because it says supplies are insufficient.

Vincent DeVito, an attorney for Northeast Energy Solutions, said United Illuminating didn’t reveal it was an investor in the pipeline until his group started raising questions. He said the company was exerting undue pressure on regulators by saying its supply needs could be met only by building a pipeline it would profit from.

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“So what is the purpose of the moratorium? Is it to support the customers, or is it to support the shareholders?” DeVeto said. “All the environmental issues aside, this is a business problem.”

The utility responded by saying the deal would be good for ratepayers. No other pipeline proposals would allow the company to hook up new gas to customers, said Michael West, a spokesman for United Illuminating, and the company would keep its gas sales and purchasing teams separate to avoid conflicts.

“Our interest in pipelines and dealing with capacity constraints is not solely because of Berkshire,” said West. “The Berkshire management team was not involved in early conversations regarding this investment.”

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A spokeswoman for Attorney General Maura Healey said the attorney general was reviewing the request for an investigation. Previously, Healey has asked the state utility regulator to reject Berkshire Gas’s request to buy gas from the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline.

Jack Newsham can be reached at jack.newsham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheNewsHam.
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