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NH consumer office slams ISO New England's fuel review as pipeline propaganda

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NH consumer office slams ISO New England's fuel review as pipeline propaganda

As gas pipeline companies and utilities work with New England state governments to make the market more accessible to the fuel that those companies and the grid operator say the region needs, an objection by New Hampshire's consumer advocate suggests any changes will be hard-won.

The New Hampshire Office of the Consumer Advocate fired the broadside against ISO New England over an update of a study on regional fuel security. The office said the study appears to be headed in the same direction as earlier messages that New England will suffer during cold winters, when electric generation competes for gas with heating demand, if the region does not build more pipeline.

"ISO New England has a long track record of dog-whistle proclamations about natural gas infrastructure in New England," the Office of the Consumer Advocate said in an Aug. 9 Facebook post. "It cleverly deploys the word 'precarious' to describe the grid when it wants to propagandize in favor of massive expansions of natural gas pipeline capacity to be funded on a mandatory basis by electric ratepayers."

"But ISO New England stops short of actually claiming that without new pipeline capacity the grid will fail — because it knows it has no evidence to support such a claim," the consumer advocate said.

"In these circumstances," the office said, "there is every reason for consumers to worry that ISO New England's forthcoming 'fuel security challenges' study is an exercise in foregone conclusions an effort to manufacture evidence that ISO New England knows is presently lacking." The office said it would make this argument Sept. 27 in the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

Environmental groups, independent power generators and LNG import companies have fought efforts to build more pipeline. On the other side, gas utilities and other gas buyers want power generators to help pay for new infrastructure projects, which depend on commitments from customers. They see a strong need for expansions of New England's gas pipeline network as gas transportation demand goes up with power generation and other uses.

In the study, ISO New England observed that the region's power system is "increasingly dependent on natural gas for power generation" and yet "the capacity of the region's natural gas infrastructure is not always adequate to deliver all the fuel needed for both heating and power generation during winter." The region also has lost coal, oil and nuclear power plants and has limited dual-fuel generating capacity, in large part because of emissions restrictions on burning oil.

"Natural gas is the fuel of choice for most new power plant proposals," ISO New England said. Still, it planned to evaluate all fuels, and it would not identify requirements for new or expanded pipeline capacity and other gas infrastructure.

Two of New England's largest power utilities, Eversource Energy and National Grid plc, joined Enbridge Inc.'s Spectra Energy Partners LP to develop the Access Northeast pipeline expansion on the Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC system. The project was designed to get more gas to power plants. Unfavorable decisions in New England states, including New Hampshire, led the partners to withdraw the project from the review process at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on June 29. The developers have said they hope to bring the project back after legislative changes to the New England market.

The Office of the Consumer Advocate said it does not have a position on whether New England needs more pipeline capacity. In a deregulated electric industry, it said, the issue should be worked out between generators and their fuel suppliers, with investors in the involved companies, rather than the retail electric customers, taking the business risk.

In January, Eversource and Spectra Energy asked the state high court to review a decision by the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission that rejected Eversource's request for a 20-year gas transportation agreement on the Algonquin pipeline.