By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
A natural-gas-infrastructure project slated for southern New England came to a screeching halt June 29, when Houston-based Spectra Energy Partners announced it is suspending the controversial Access Northeast project.
The buildout of the Algonquin natural-gas pipeline centered on a series of extensions and nine compressor station projects between New York and Massachusetts, including a new compressor station in Rehoboth, Mass., and the expansion of a compressor station in Burrillville, R.I.
The 10,320-horsepower Rehoboth compressor station was proposed for a privately owned 120-acre site close to Attleboro and Seekonk, Mass., and Pawtucket, R.I., and about 10 miles from downtown Providence.
Access Northeast was a shared effort by Spectra, National Grid and Eversource. The project was one of several that resulted from a December 2013 agreement between all six New England governors that allowed the states to share the costs of regional energy projects. The effort hit a snag in late 2016, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rejected a plan by the three companies to charge electric ratepayers for the natural-gas projects. The demise of the so-called “pipeline tax" put the Access Northeast and other proposed pipeline upgrades in limbo and prompted other New England states to suspend or reject similar funding schemes.
The Access Northeast project provoked stiff local criticism and the formation of opposition groups such as Citizens Against the Rehoboth Compressor Station (CARCS), The FANG Collective and Burrillville Against Spectra Energy.
Opponents united over heath, safety and environmental risks such as air and water pollution, fires and explosions, noise, climate-change impacts, and the notion that the projects helped the export of natural gas from hydraulic fracturing fields in Pennsylvania and Ohio to coastal terminals in or near New England.
News of the canceled project was announced via an e-mail to municipalities hosting projects. The opposition groups were quick to respond to the announcement that Spectra withdraw the Access Northeast application.
“This victory is owed to all of the frontline communities who have been resisting Spectra across the Northeast, and to those who have put their bodies on the line as part of direct actions to stop Spectra," said Nick Katkevich of The FANG Collective, a Providence-based environmental activist group that was founded in reaction to a previous expansion of the Burrillville compressor station.
Katkevich and other activists say there are still many more southern New England projects to oppose, such as Spectra’s Atlantic Bridge project, which includes a bitterly contested compressor station in Weymouth, Mass.
“We must remain ever vigilant since Rehoboth hosts miles of transmission lines which makes us particularly vulnerable,” said Tracy Manzella of CARCS. “We agree and support the messaging from all the other anti-pipeline groups."
Manzella sees bigger forces to reckon with, such as fossil-fuel-friendly policies advanced by the operator of the New England power grid, ISO New England, and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.
“CARCS will not rest in its resistance to pipeline expansion here or anywhere, not until we have safely made the transition to clean renewable energy and the window of opportunity for these greedy companies to use us for their profit taking is past," she said.
Access Northeast is the second canceled pipeline project. In March 2016, fossil-fuel developer and pipeline owner Kinder Morgan scrapped its proposed $3 billion, 188-mile Northeast Direct pipeline planned for the northern edge of Massachusetts.
“Spectra recognized that their deep pockets were no match for grassroots power," said Craig Altemose, executive director for 350 Massachusetts for a Better Future. "It’s only a matter of time before other fossil-fuel companies come to the same realization. We look forward to Spectra similarly abandoning their plans for the similarly offensive and unnecessary Atlantic Bridge project.”