By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — In a letter late last month to President Trump, House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan asked for help in addressing an “issue that is hurting average Rhode Island families immeasurably.”
Rep. Morgan, R-West Warwick, says a stalled Algonquin Gas pipeline project needs to be reactivated to help Rhode Island residents and businesses have a better life and be more successful.
In the Jan. 26 letter Morgan wrote, “a proposed and much needed pipeline has been bogged down for years during the Obama administration, presumably for climate change reasons. Rhode Island families, businesses and I need your help moving this project to fruition.”
As part of its collection of regional natural gas-expansion projects, the Houston-based Spectra Energy Corp. had requested to enlarge a compressor station in Burrillville by adding two more gas-powered engines, which would help propel natural gas along the 1,127-mile Algonquin pipeline that runs from New Jersey to Massachusetts.
There also has been talk of building another natural-gas pipeline “across New York and Connecticut to increase inadequate gas supplies to our state,” according to Morgan.
In a press release posted Jan. 30 on the State of Rhode Island General Assembly website touting her letter to Trump, Morgan noted that given the president’s action to “overcome the difficulties to construction of both the Keystone XL and Dakota pipelines” and his desire to spend $1 trillion to improve the nation's infrastructure, “it strikes me that he might be willing to help Rhode Island with the stalled gas pipeline.”
“Over the past few winters as more homes have converted to gas heat, National Grid and the Public Utilities Commission has been forced to significantly increase the cost of electricity to ratepayers,” according to her website press release. “Because homes heating needs are prioritized, they consume the lion's share of our current capacity. The solution is building another gas pipeline along the path of the existing pipeline to increase capacity.”
However, the general trend across much of New England is that natural-gas prices are decreasing, largely because of increased capacity and milder winters. Some of the reason for the winter 2013-14 price spikes has been blamed on energy companies for not using all of their storage resources.
Last month, National Grid filed a proposal with the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission that called for a decrease in the standard-offer service rate for residential customers from 8.2 cents a kilowatt-hour to 6.8, according to a Jan. 30 Providence Journal story.
In fact, according to the recent Providence Journal story, rates for all of 2016 were generally low throughout New England. Mild weather and the lowest natural-gas prices since 1999 drove overall wholesale energy prices to their lowest point since 2003, Gordon van Welie, president and CEO of ISO-New England, the operator of the regional power grid, told the newspaper.
Another Providence Journal story, from October 2015, reported that National Grid expected the electric bill for the typical residential customer to drop by as much as 8 percent.
In a Feb. 1 interview with ecoRI News, Morgan said the state’s businesses and residents, especially her elderly constituents, need relief from Rhode Island’s cost of living, which she noted was one of the highest in the country. She also said Rhode Island is the “worst place to retire,” because of these high costs.
According to Missouri Economic Research and Information Center data from the third quarter of 2016, Rhode Island ranked as the 11th highest place to live, out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Massachusetts ranked fourth and Connecticut seventh. Rounding out the six New England states was Vermont at No. 10, New Hampshire at No. 12 and Maine at No. 14.
Morgan also told ecoRI News that Rhode Island has the second-highest electric rate in the country. Rhode Island, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), is fourth, behind Hawaii, Connecticut and Alaska, with an average retail price of 17.01 cents per kilowatt-hour. Connecticut’s average retail price is 17.77 cents per kilowatt-hour.
According to the EIA, Connecticut had the highest residential average monthly electric bill in 2015, at $153.13, and was the only New England state in the top 10.
Morgan noted that if a second pipeline was built it would lower energy costs, improve Rhode Island’s business climate and create jobs for construction workers. She said renewable-energy use is growing, but claimed wind and solar are still more expensive than fossil fuels.
“We need inexpensive electric and gas to hear our homes,” she said. “People are struggling to pay their bills. If electricity rates are lower, that would help everyone and better people’s lives.”
Asked if she had concerns about climate-change impacts associated with increased fossil-fuel use or with the dangers of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), both Morgan and her policy analyst, Rachel Masciarelli, said no.
“After eight years of Obama, I’m sure we have put the proper protections in place,” Morgan said.
They both said natural gas produces less emissions than coal or oil, and that technology is making fracking safer. Masciarelli said there has been only a handful of cases of aquifers being polluted by fracking. She also noted that an additional pipeline in the smallest state wouldn’t make a difference in the grand scheme of climate change.
Masciarelli e-mailed ecoRI News the research she conducted regarding natural-gas production and fracking.
Morgan said climate change is real, but believes humans are intelligent enough to overcome the potential impacts.
“Climate change is happening, but human beings are smart and we’ll figure it out,” she said. “Mastodons in Rhode Island couldn’t adapt and died. Humans can adapt.”