“Fix the leaks!”
“Eco terrorist armed with pointed facts.”
These were some of the messages conveyed on signs held by protestors gathered in front of Berkshire Gas headquarters on Route 8 in Pittsfield on Saturday, May 9. About 25 demonstrators lined the street outside Berkshire Gas in an effort to call out the utility’s failure to fix gas leaks and set ambitious energy savings goals and to protest the utility’s role in actively contracting for more gas through the Kinder Morgan proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline.
“Standoffs like this are an opportunity for us to have a voice,” said Dalton resident Cheryl Rose, who initiated the gathering. “The big company with all the money has a lot of power, and this is what we have to resort to to be heard.”
Rose and other demonstrators were not only protesting the Kinder Morgan pipeline, but also raising awareness of Berkshire Gas’ poor record on energy savings and repairing leaks in their system.
“We wanted to really call attention to the fact that Berkshire Gas is pushing for the pipeline,” said Rose. “Meanwhile, they have a very poor record for the Mass Save efficiency program and they have a lot of leaks.”
Mass Save is an energy efficiency initiative sponsored by Massachusetts’ gas and electric utilities including Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, Berkshire Gas, Cape Light Compact, Eversource, National Grid, Liberty Utilities and Unitil. According to data from the Massachusetts Energy Efficiency Advisory Council, in 2013 Berkshire Gas’ goal for annual energy savings as a percentage of energy sales was 0.7 percent. While Berkshire exceeded this goal, it was one of the lowest goals of any utility participating in the program. And 2014 Mass Save data indicates that Berkshire Gas had the second lowest energy savings as a percentage of forecasted sales among participating utilities.
According to Jane Winn of Berkshire Environmental Action Team, Berkshire Gas’ goals for energy savings are “pathetic” compared to other utilities. “Of all the gas companies, they’re the second to the lowest,” she said. “The electric companies are saving 2.4 percent. With insulating our home, we’re saving 80 percent. I don’t think the gas companies are trying.”
As for gas leaks, Berkshire Gas has received criticism for its inaccurate reporting of leak-prone main lines. According to a reply brief from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, Berkshire Gas admitted it had erroneously classified 33 miles of main line. While the company said it corrected for the error in 2010, the Attorney General’s Office questioned the accuracy of the company’s data for previous years. Furthermore, the analysis finds Berkshire Gas’ figures on leaks to be unreliable because the company has reported zero “Lost and Unaccounted For” gas since 2008. “For these reasons,” the reply brief states, “the Department should find that Berkshire has not produced reliable analysis to carry its burden of proof to demonstrate a ‘plan to reasonably accelerate eligible infrastructure replacement’.”
Furthermore, as reported in the Greenfield Recorder, Berkshire Gas spokesman Christopher Farrell made some controversial remarks during a recent Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting, accusing pipeline opponents of “a little eco terrorism.”
“It’s absurd. I mean, do we look like terrorists?” said demonstrator and 350MA Berkshire Node member Judy Eddy. “It’s just a joke that they would say that. We’re just regular people. We want a clean environment for our kids. We don’t want a pipeline, a compressor station. And I thought his statements were really venomous and unnecessary.”
The Berkshire Eagle even called out Farrell, saying in a recent editorial: “People who are concerned about pipeline leaks, the destruction of natural habitat in building the pipelines, the fracking process used to extract natural gas, or the elevation of global warming by the burning of fossil fuels are not terrorists, nor are they agenda-driven true believers who "don't care" about the business community.”
According to the Greenfield Recorder, Farrell did apologize for his remarks.
Pipeline opponents, meanwhile, continue to make the case that the pipeline is unnecessary and unjustified.
“The statistics show that if gas companies fix their leaks, and if we continue on the trend of energy efficiency we’re on now, we don’t need this pipeline,” said Eddy. “The percentage of this gas that’s going to Massachusetts customers is so little of the capacity of this pipeline. Everyone who is really looking at it carefully knows that gas is going somewhere, and it’s going to export.”
If the pipeline is built, opponents point out, it would undermine the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act and hinder any attempts to meet greenhouse gas reductions targets.
“The Global Warming Solutions Act in Massachusetts dictates that we meet certain goals that we are not meeting,” Eddy explained. “Brining in more fossil fuel infrastructure is not going to help us meet those goals, it’s going to really ruin them.”
“We have to get serious about climate change,” added Rose. “Even if it’s inconvenient, we have to deal with it for the sake of our kids, for the sake of the people who come after us.”
“The clean energy sector is a huge part of the Massachusetts economy, with over 88,000 jobs, about 6,000 firms, growing double digits each year,” said Winn. “I think it’s more important to keep growing the clean energy economy than risk losing that by adding more gas.”