Connecticut legislature must act on bill to repeal gas pipeline tax

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Spectra Energy

A construction crew works on a gas pipeline.

Undeterred by major defeats last year, New England’s biggest utilities and grid operator ISO New England still want to force the needless Access Northeast natural gas pipeline on Connecticut ratepayers. They want to build it and require us to pay for it.

At Eversource’s February quarterly earnings meeting, its executive vice president for energy strategy, Lee Olivier, told investors that in Massachusetts there is “an outreach campaign with key business leaders and legislators” over the cost of “not having additional gas pipeline capacity.”

Olivier spoke the day after ISO-New England’s 2017 Regional Electricity Outlook report said current pipeline bottlenecks were severe and warned that continued use of old fossil-fuel power generators would be “counter to the states’ ambitious carbon-reduction goals.”

All of this amounts to a scare campaign, creating a crisis where none exists.

We know this because Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment, along with other environmental and consumer groups, recently released a study showing conclusively that new natural gas pipelines are not necessary.

Those pipelines could cost as much as $6.6 billion, more than double the $3.2 billion that proponents claim because of anticipated cost overruns, operational and maintenance costs, depreciation and return on equity investment.

The study by Synapse Energy Economics, which conducts rigorous analyses for state and federal agencies as well as environmental groups, found that New England’s use of natural gas will decrease by 41 percent from 2015 levels by 2030 due to state requirements for energy efficiency, renewable energy and emissions caps. Furthermore, the study said, “even existing gas pipelines may operate under capacity.”

The utilities want consumers to foot the bill for new pipelines through a surcharge on our bills – a pipeline tax.

The scheme was rejected by Massachusetts’ highest court and by New Hampshire public utilities regulators. In its unanimous ruling, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said the pipeline tax would “re-expose ratepayers to the types of financial risks from which the legislature sought to protect them.”

Here in Connecticut, the pipeline tax is alive and well.  That’s why the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the CT Fund for the Environment and Sierra Club support a bill introduced by state Rep. Christopher Rosario, D-Bridgeport, to ban such a tax.

Unfortunately, many legislators are not even aware they voted for the pipeline tax, and many don’t understand there are grave financial risks of a new pipeline.

Sadly, that bill has yet to receive the public hearing it deserves in the legislative process. This is egregious, especially since the committee leadership heard directly from constituents who have called on them for months to support the repeal of this unfair ratepayer subsidy.

Residents will still be stuck with at least $85 million of expense over the financial lifetime of the pipeline. If that is not enough, the utilities, for all their claims of diligence in maintenance, are not adequately attending to existing pipelines.

There are better options for Connecticut. Our state needs forward-thinking leadership on clean energy, similar to the ambitious efforts we see in Massachusetts and New York.

Last year, Massachusetts mandated the development of an unprecedented 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind energy and 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectric power. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced a goal of constructing 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030, enough to power 1.25 million homes.

There are also great examples of clean energy solutions that have been proposed here in Connecticut, including the Lead by Example program, which could cut energy use by 30 percent and save between $45 million and $60 million annually by making all of our state-owned buildings energy-efficient.

The challenge is motivating legislators to stop sitting on their hands and embrace common-sense proposals instead of antiquated infrastructure for more oil and gas.

Instead of bowing to the fossil fuel industries, it is time to advance more renewable energy to drive our current dependence on natural gas down even further. Connecticut was recently rated fifth in the country for our use of energy efficiency and ninth for installed solar power. We are heading in the right direction without pipelines, and we can do even better.

The utilities behind the Access Northeast pipeline are appealing to the New Hampshire Supreme Court and wooing business leaders in Massachusetts to keep their pipeline tax alive. The evidence is abundant that consumers should not help the utilities invest in infrastructure we do not need. If these pipelines are such a good idea for Connecticut, let the utilities pay for them.

Louis W. Burch is the Connecticut program director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

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