Questions Continue to Stir about NatGrid Back Bay Pipeline

By Beth Treffeisen

Seen from vantage points across the city, a large light up crane marks the start of construction of the future One Dalton development that will feature a luxury residential and hotel tower that will rise to 691 feet in the Back Bay.

In order to support the infrastructure of this large development and several others in the works in the Back Bay, an extension of a natural gas pipeline is being proposed. The 4,100-foot, natural-gas main will run from the intersection of Berkeley and Cortes streets to Dalton Sreet., ending at One Dalton Street.

But, despite gaining the permits needed to proceed from the Boston Public Improvements Commission (PIC) on Dec. 7, many residents continue to share concerns that the pipeline was being approved before a public process is finished.

These concerns were echoed at the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) hearing on Friday, Dec. 15, where representatives from the attorney general’s office, National Grid, concerned neighborhood groups and environmental groups convened to begin discussions on how this gas-line extension will affect ratepayers.

National Grid wants One Dalton to be an anchor customer to finance the controversial natural-gas pipeline. The contract between National Grid and One Dalton requires DPU approval.

“It was premature and inappropriate for the Boston Public Improvement Commission to issue a grant of location for the pipeline because the financing for this pipeline has not been finalized and may not ultimately be approved,” said Emily Norton, executive director of Sierra Club Massachusetts Chapter and member of the Boston Clean Energy Coalition (BCEC).

The City has arranged for a public meeting with National Grid to take place on Jan. 16 at the Boston Public Library, after some key approvals have already taken place.

In addition, many questions from the attorney general’s office have yet to be answered. At the hearing representatives from the attorney general’s office indicated that they want further discovery, and to file a brief.

National Grid would like to keep the financial terms of the agreement under wraps, making it impossible to evaluate the costs of the pipeline versus non-gas alternatives advocated by Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) and BCEC.

In a motion for protective treatment of the information, National Grid states: “The customer’s estimated usage data is customer-specific information that the company treats as confidential and only the customer has the right to decide to disclose it. The price and related financial terms negotiated and agreed to by the National Grid and the customer are confidential, commercially sensitive, and proprietary.”

Martyn Roetter, chair of NABB who commented at the hearing, said that from his experience in dealing with the Article 80 review process of the Boston Planning and Development Agency of a large project – that the developers are as determined as National Grid, to make it difficult if not impossible to analyze and evaluate the pros and cons of alternative solutions for supplying energy to their buildings.

“So as matters now stand we are being asked to accept a ‘pig in a poke’ – It means something that is bought or sold without knowing its true value (or lack thereof),” said Roetter. “In this instance, the interested party kept in the dark (us) gets, and is being asked to accept sight unseen, is something that will turn out to be harmful.”

National Grid will continue the contract for a 20-year term in exchange for a fixed rate including the share that will help finance the extension of the pipeline.

“I have witnessed major construction, and I think the whole concept is ignoring the impact on the residents who are already here with yet another major construction project,” said Alice Templeton, a 40-year resident of Boston. “Let’s think it through before we grant approvals.”

Templeton noted that many people don’t even know where their source of energy comes from, noting that much of the natural gas that people consume come from fracking.

“It is the worst thing we can do for ourselves and the planet,” said Templeton. “It is poisoning our own aquifers with man-made toxins, which are impossible to remove. In an age where foresight seems to be limited, wouldn’t it be smart as our fresh water as dwindling to preserve the fresh water sources we have? …. We are being the worst terrorists to ourselves when we are endorsing fracking.”

Service of natural gas to One Dalton is scheduled to begin Sept. 30, 2018.

This hearing was the start of the procedural steps from the DPU. The attorney general’s office will continue to look into the matter for the next couple of weeks and after a report is made, a decision will follow.

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