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February 23, 2017 CT Green Guide

Pipeline developers pursue multi-pronged approach

Utility Eversource said Wednesday that it – along with developers – will continue to pursue the proposed expansion of a natural gas pipeline that crosses Connecticut.

Several legal rulings last year effectively blocked a proposed financing mechanism for the Access Northeast project, which would expand the Algonquin Gas Transmission pipeline and add liquified natural gas facilities.

Developers wanted to include the construction costs into electric rates across New England, but a Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling effectively blocked the proposal.

Lead developer Spectra has said in recent months that it shifted its focus to securing contracts with natural gas utilities, or local distribution companies (LDCs), to help finance and move the project forward.

But LDC contracts alone won’t be enough, Leon Olivier, an Eversource executive vice president, told analysts this week.

“We cannot make it work with just LDC load,” Olivier said. “There's not enough LDC load to do that.”

So the development partners, which also include National Grid, are simultaneously appealing a to the New Hampshire Supreme Court and attempting to convince lawmakers in Massachusetts -- a crucial state for the project because it uses 42 percent of New England’s power -- to change state law.

A third option includes applying for a tariff through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Eversource said.

Olivier referred to an outlook published this week by grid operator ISO-New England, which he said bolsters the case for Access Northeast.

In the report, ISO NE CEO Gordon van Welie wrote that he is concerned about keeping the lights on in future winters, particularly after 2019, when two non-gas power plants -- which the region relies on during cold spells -- are set to retire.

Van Welie noted the rapid growth of solar and other renewable power in the region, but said New England is still decades away from being able declare complete independence from fossil fuels.

“For the foreseeable future, the region will require resources such as natural-gas-fired units that can do what wind and solar resources cannot: make large contributions to meeting regional electricity demand; run in any type of weather and at any time of day; quickly change output levels; and provide essential grid-stability services,” he said.

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