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Gas consumers disappointed as pipeline companies turn away from New England

Natural gas consumers in New England are watching the pipeline projects that they would like to have turn away from their plans and are frustrated by a lack of solutions for the market.

"I wouldn't have a guess as to when any of [the proposals] are going to come into service," said Andrew Price, president and COO of Competitive Energy Services LLC. "They are all significantly at risk for delays."

Competitive Energy Services provides energy procurement and consulting services to cities and commercial, industrial and institutional clients in the Northeast and other parts of North America. After a June 7 gas buyers panel at the LDC Gas Forum Northeast in Boston, he said he did not see a convenient solution to the New England situation.

"An obvious fix is not in the cards in the near future," he said.

Price expected pipeline development to only get more difficult. Looking ahead, he saw pipelines being built out of the Marcellus Shale region to the west and south, but none to New England.

Pointing to a project panel the day before, Price observed that almost all of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic projects covered by representatives of pipeline companies were ones that could be done easily with compression upgrades or other work within existing rights of way. The theme was avoiding greenfield projects "at all costs," he said.

Some of the nation's biggest pipeline companies have tried and failed to penetrate New England with significant projects in the last couple years. Kinder Morgan Inc. dropped its Northeast Energy Direct project when it did not pick up enough commercial support. The Access Northeast project, a joint venture of Spectra Energy Partners LP, Eversource Energy and National Grid plc, stalled because courts or state agencies did not allow power generation customers to get on board.

On the June 6 project panel, Erin Petkovich, director of business development for Spectra Energy parent Enbridge Inc., still included Access Northeast on a list of projects on the company's development horizon, with a projected in-service date sometime in 2019 or later.

Kevin Petak, vice president of fuel markets analysis for ICF International, put Access Northeast in a group of four pipeline projects on hold in the Northeast. Northern Access 2016, Wright Interconnect and Constitution pipeline are the others. Petak noted that out of the 10 Bcf/d of gas transportation capacity in development between the Marcellus and Northeast markets, only 1 Bcf/d is in the construction phase.