Although it was widely reported that an August 17 ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (Docket No. SJ-2015-0437) put an end to a possible “pipeline tax” to be imposed on Bay State ratepayers – and, in doing so, put the kibosh on the Access Northeast project’s prospects for completion –that’s not necessarily the case, according to a report in the September 5 edition of the Manchester Union-Leader.
“Our work to obtain contract approval will continue throughout the New England states while an alternative path is established in Massachusetts,” Eversource Energy Executive Vice President Lee Olivier wrote in a recent letter to state policymakers, the news outlet said.
Eversource, the state’s largest utility, serves1.7 million customers throughout Massachusetts, including 1.4 million electric ratepayers. Other partners in the Access Northeast project included National Grid and Spectra Energy.
The high court ruling in Conservation Law Foundation V. Department of Public Utilities, written by Justice Robert Cordy, represented a victory for the litigant, which has long opposed the growth of pipelines, said Mass Live.
In its decision, the court declared it unlawful for Massachusetts to force residential electricity customers to subsidize the construction of private gas pipelines, requiring the companies themselves to shoulder the substantial risks of such projects.
But where will the funding come from? Eversource spokesperson Martin Murray said the plan remains in front of the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for its consideration, the Union-Leader reported.
“We can’t continue to increase demand and reliance on natural gas for electricity without addressing the supply,” said Murray. “The Massachusetts court decision does not solve that challenge and, for our part, Eversource will continue to work to help develop a solution.”
Indeed, the utility told the Union-Leader that it believes it can still keep Massachusetts in the project – either by coming up with a new way for Bay State customers to pay their share, or by asking the Massachusetts Legislature to override the court’s decision.
However, many industry observers are not so sure that Eversource can pull the funding out of its hat. Indeed, Don Kreis, the Consumer Advocate in New Hampshire, insinuated to the local news outlet that Eversource is engaging in some wishful thinking. “Eversource cannot state it is continuing to move forward with a petition based on the testimony it submitted to the PUC in February,” he said.
The proposal submitted in February is based on a project to be jointly funded by electric customers in all six of the New England states, the Union-Leader stated.
“Those facts are no longer operative,” Kreis said. “The PUC doesn’t issue rulings based on hypothetical — or, indeed, fictional — scenarios.”