Baker administration suggests support for hydropower may help stop pipeline

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BOSTON – Gov. Charlie Baker’s alternative hydroelectric power bill may take wind out of the sails of proponents for a potential natural gas pipeline across Massachusetts, the governor’s Energy Secretary suggested Tuesday.

The Baker administration filed the “Act Relative to Energy Sector Compliance with the Global Warming Solutions Act” (SB 1965) in July to look at long-term clean energy solutions and promote the use of hydroelectric power in the state.

On Tuesday, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton suggested that passing the bill might help environmentalists convince the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that the proposed natural gas pipeline is not needed to meet Massachusetts’ energy needs.

“The more that we can move toward showing that diversified portfolio and showing that we are proactively addressing this issue, the more of an impact it could ultimately make on the final FERC decision,” he said.

The FERC is currently reviewing a pipeline application filed by Kinder Morgan in November 2015.  Kinder Morgan seeks to build a 415-mile, 30-inch pipeline to carry 1.3 billion cubic feet of fracked natural gas per day from Pennsylvania to the Northeast.

Supporters of the pipeline say that it is necessary to meet demand and bring down costs, which are among the highest nationwide. New England states have heavily upped their use of natural gas in recent years, but have been unable to keep up with transmitting large amounts of gas to the region. Energy analysts project that the region will soon need an additional 1 billion to 2 billion cubic feet of natural gas to meet demands during peak usage periods.

But pipeline opponents claim that, even if the project helps bring down energy costs, those benefits are outweighed by the increase in carbon emissions caused by continued dependence on fossil fuels and by the potential impact on sensitive land and ecosystems around the project.

And multiple Massachusetts towns, such as North Reading, Concord and Deerfield have passed municipal ordinances to ban surveying for the project. Towns like Peabody and Lynnfield are fighting to ban the pipeline entirely.

The Baker administration has not supported any specific projects, but has supported in general using natural gas in the state. But in pushing for passage of his bill on Tuesday, Baker seemed to shift course, praising hydroelectric power as a way for the state to reduce its dependency natural gas.

Baker noted that dependence on natural gas “comes with tremendous environmental and economic risks, and they’re ones I’m not willing to bear on the backs of Massachusetts ratepayers.”

According to Beaton, those who oppose the pipeline should support the hydroelectric bill, because without alternative energy sources, FERC may be left with no other choice than to approve the pipeline.

“By not acting on the governor’s proposal and bringing forward diversified energy sources, then FERC is going to be left with a decision of very possibly there is only one decision, and that is gas,” Beaton said.

Beaton also said that the administration is aiming to lower the cost, maintain responsibility in reducing greenhouse gases and aiming to stabilize electricity rates.

In a bipartisan show of support for the hydroelectric power bill, Baker and Beaton were joined at the press conference Tuesday by the three Democrats who formerly served as Energy Secretary for other administrations.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis