fb-pixel Skip to main content
Shirley Leung

The winners and losers after Kinder Morgan’s exit

Protesters marched in Cummington, Mass., against the Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline proposed for Western Massachusetts in March.Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle via Associated Press

At times, there seemed to be so many natural gas pipeline proposals that it was hard to keep track of them all. Now the most controversial plan — the $3.3 billion, 188-mile pipeline by Kinder Morgan — has bitten the dust, unable to sign enough utility customers as it faced NIMBYs and political opposition.

Here are the winners and losers as the Houston company gets run out of town.

WinnersSpectra Energy. Hope springs eternal for the other Houston firm trying to do business in New England. Spectra is behind three projects to expand existing natural gas pipelines in the region. The feds approved one, and while there has been some opposition to Spectra, especially in Boston, it’s nothing as vociferous as what Kinder Morgan faced. With its competitor out of the picture, Spectra could have an easier time making its case.

Advertisement



Maura Healey and Stan Rosenberg. Healey loudly opposed the Kinder Morgan project, and the Senate president made life difficult for the company. Healey’s office represents the ratepayers and came out with a study last fall asserting that the region over the next 15 years does not need new interstate natural gas pipeline capacity. Instead, Massachusetts could meet its additional energy needs through efficiency and demand response programs.

Rosenberg, a Democrat from Amherst, wrote a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last year, raising concerns about the environmental effect of the pipeline through his district and whether one was needed.

Combo platter. With one pipeline off the table, the state will need a bigger menu of energy options. That bodes well for Beacon Hill to come together to get behind Charlie Baker’s so-called combo platter approach to ensure the state has cleaner and more affordable power.

The governor has a hydropower bill to harness more water from Canada, while the House is pushing legislation that will promote offshore wind. The state will need both, with heating oil falling out of favor, Cape Wind on life support, and Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth shutting down by 2019.

Advertisement



Conservation Law Foundation. The powerful group led a coalition of community activists and environmentalists to fight Kinder Morgan. New England traditionally gets its natural gas brought in from the Gulf of Mexico, but the discovery of the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania means a cheaper supply closer to home. All we need is more pipeline, which set off an arms race. CLF opposes more fossil fuel consumption, saying it’s bad for the planet. Expect the group to remain a force on this issue.

Energy newcomers. The new kids on the block must be giddy. I am talking about the unfortunately named Danish government-owned entity, DONG, which wants to build a huge wind farm off Martha’s Vineyard, and members of the Massachusetts Clean Electricity Partnership made up of players such as Hydro Quebec and TDI New England. These companies are trying to compete in a market dominated by Eversource and National Grid. With 800-pound gorilla Kinder Morgan gone, there’s more room for everyone else.

Losers

Maine Governor Paul LePage. I feel a little bad beating up LePage only because he does such a good job of getting into trouble all by himself. He probably was the most prominent supporter of the ill-fated Kinder Morgan pipeline, hoping that it would lower energy costs in Maine. He is also supporting Spectra Energy’s projects for the same reason.

Advertisement



Kinder Morgan lobbyists. Boston lobbyist Brian Hickey parted ways in December over what appear to be irreconcilable differences with the energy company and another one of its lobbyists, Nixon Peabody. “We had different strategies [on] how to handle the project,” Hickey told me. Still, both firms made out like bandits. In 2015, Kinder Morgan spent about $589,000 on Hickey’s firm, and about $107,000 with Nixon Peabody, according to state records.

Berkshire Gas. The company has in place a moratorium on new gas customers in certain areas because it doesn’t have the pipeline capacity. Berkshire Gas’s parent company invested about $80 million in the Kinder Morgan project to fix the shortage. Berkshire Gas had warned that if the pipeline didn’t get built, a moratorium would need to be in place indefinitely.

Industrial ratepayers. Manufacturers and other high-energy customers have long complained about the high price of power in New England. Demand is particularly high during brutally cold winter stretches. The hope was that Kinder Morgan would help bring reliability and lower costs. Spectra pipelines might not be enough.

We’ve lost five paper mills in three years because of high energy costs,” said Tony Buxton of the Coalition to Lower Energy Costs, a group of industrial and commercial electricity consumers.

He likened the situation to catching pneumonia. “You may survive the first bout,” he said, “but not the second or the third.”

Advertisement




Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.