THE LATEST PIPELINE SKIRMISH centers around the two-week cold snap New England endured at the end of December and early January.
Massachusetts businesses groups last week released a study that quantified the environmental impact of the cold snap, which sent demand for natural gas soaring to levels that couldn’t be satisfied with existing pipeline capacity. The result was more use of oil and coal to generate electricity, and much higher greenhouse gas emissions.
The analysis, done by Concentric Energy Advisors for the pro-pipeline Coalition for Sustainable Energy, said the carbon dioxide emissions during the 15-day cold snap were the equivalent of putting an additional 6.4 million cars on the road during that period or negating the annual emission benefits of over 1,500 megawatts of solar power. The analysis also indicated New England ratepayers paid $1.7 billion more for electricity this winter compared to last winter, thanks in part to the cold spell.
Longer term, Concentric sees demand for natural gas increasing as homeowners shift from oil to gas to heat their homes and as aging power plants are retired and replaced with gas-fired plants.
“In the final analysis, it is clear that immediate action is required to both ensure that the electric grid continues to operate in a safe and reliable manner in the next decade and beyond, and to reduce energy costs being borne by New England customers,” the report concluded. “Among the universe of possible solutions, the development of additional pipeline capacity should be strongly considered by New England’s policymakers as part of a balanced solution to lower emissions from oil and coal, enhance energy reliability, and lower energy costs.”
The Acadia Center, an environmental advocacy group that opposes new pipeline construction, put out its own analysis, which noted that, even with the increase in greenhouse gas emissions earlier this year, emissions have been trending downward since 2003.
Despite the overall downward trend, Acadia said emissions can vary quite dramatically month to month. January, for example, was the tenth highest month in terms of greenhouse gas emissions since January 2014. Emissions in February, however, hit the lowest level since the start of 2000.
Mark LeBel, a staff attorney at Acadia, said no one wants to see emission levels go up. “But the bottom line is in terms of overall pollution you want to look at annual progress,” he said. On that score, he said, New England is headed in the right direction.
Building a new natural gas pipeline into the region would act as a hedge against the occasional severe cold snap, allow more homeowners to shift from oil heat to gas heat, and provide fuel for new power plants to replace those that are retiring.
But additional pipeline capacity would bring more cheap gas to the region, which could undercut the development of more expensive renewables.