The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling against a request by utilities to charge electricity users for expanding natural gas pipelines is already affecting a similar request in Rhode Island.
The Conservation Law Foundation filed a motion at the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission to dismiss National Grid’s proposal to secure gas contracts and recover costs for its Access Northeast Project.
CLF Staff Attorney Megan Herzog argues the Massachusetts decision sets a precedent for Rhode Island.
“That changes the economics for the pipeline for the whole region,” said Herzog. “Citizens in Rhode Island and New Hampshire and in other states shouldn't be shouldering a portion of the risks of this project if people in Massachusetts aren't.”
The commonwealth's Supreme Court said such a proposal would “undermine the main objectives” of a statute in Massachusetts that restructured the commonwealth’s electric utility industry and “reexpose ratepayers to the types of financial risks from which the Legislature sought to protect them.”
Herzog said Rhode Island’s statute is nearly identical to Massachusetts’, so the ruling would be equally applicable in the Ocean State.
National Grid Spokesman David Graves disagrees with that interpretation.
“It does not address nor do they have the right to address statutes in Rhode Island,” said Graves. “There are basic differences between the statutes passed in Massachusetts and the one in Rhode Island.”
“We have the right to move forward and have an obligation on behalf of our customers to move forward to do everything we can to increase natural gas capacity in New England, not just today but of course into the future,” Graves continued.
The Access Northeast Project would cost billions of dollars. The total cost of the project is redacted in RIPUC filings.
“Companies like Spectra and Kinder Morgan were counting on subsidizing their risky projects with handouts from ratepayers,” said Ben Weilerstein, Eastern MA and Rhode Island Organizer with Toxics Action Center. “Rhode Island's PUC should follow this important precedent, which gives communities across New England facing an onslaught of fracked gas projects in their backyards good reason to feel hopeful right now.”
But the “do nothing” scenario is untenable, according to Arthur Diestel, Spectra Energy’s director of stakeholder outreach in a statement. He said the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decision offers no solutions to the region’s energy challenges.
Spectra Energy, National Grid and Eversource Energy will continue to work together to secure approval across New England for the Access Northeast Project.