The state’s aging gas infrastructure needs to be replaced

The state’s aging gas infrastructure needs to be replaced
The state’s aging gas infrastructure needs to be replaced

Massachusetts faces a problem—and a choice—with its aging gas supplies.
infrastructure. Due to the age of the Commonwealth’s gas pipelines, thousands of new methane leaks are reported by gas utilities each year, posing a significant threat to the safety and health of our residents. In addition, ratepayers will see significant impacts on their gas bills over time. In addition to an expected increase in gas costs, ratepayers are expected to pay back approximately $34 billion to replace leak-prone pipes, spent between 2022 and 2039.

Yet the majority of Massachusetts residents — 54 percent — would rather invest in new, clean energy infrastructure than rehabilitate the aging gas system, according to a new poll commissioned by Rewiring America and Green Energy Consumers Alliance.

Rather than installing new gas lines, most residents want to switch to efficient, electric alternatives. Continuing to pour nearly $1 billion a year into a gas system that is expected to be obsolete by 2050 doesn’t make sense. It would double our gas bills in just 10 years and almost certainly mean we won’t meet our climate goals of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. That would be a betrayal of our commitment to a sustainable future and an abandonment of the bold vision of the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008.

The Massachusetts House of Representatives has the opportunity to do this
session. A Grid Upgrade and Ratepayer Protection Act passed by the Senate last week includes key provisions dedicated to updating the grid and protecting ratepayers. It will empower the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to consider whether there are cost-effective, clean energy alternatives to gas that serve the public interest and contribute to our climate goals. The act gives the DPU the authority to put the Commonwealth on a path to cleaner, safer, and more affordable heat in the form of geothermal networks, while reducing the burden on ratepayers of an outdated, expensive, and dangerous gas system.

Geothermal networks use a series of underground, water-filled pipes to heat and cool a network of buildings via ground source heat pumps, making them six times more efficient than the most efficient gas furnace on the market today. This efficiency can, in turn, lead to big savings.

Eversource, which is installing a networked geothermal pilot in Framingham, predicts that customers who switch to a geothermal heating system will use up to 20 percent less energy. By allowing gas companies to
With geothermal projects and other efficient electrical equipment, we can relieve pressure on the electric grid, reduce gas consumption, and help Massachusetts households move toward cleaner, cheaper energy sources to heat their homes and businesses.

Public support for these measures is clear. Among residents who are considering
themselves “very likely to vote”, 54 percent support requiring gas companies to remove badly damaged parts of the gas system and switch affected customers to electric heat pumps.

About 57 percent of Massachusetts residents support requiring new buildings in Massachusetts to use energy-efficient electrical appliances instead of fossil fuel-based appliances. Among residents between the ages of 18 and 44, that number jumps to 63 percent.

The path to a healthier, more affordable future is clear. We need to allow gas
Companies should begin divesting economically unviable parts of the gas system, such as those that serve few customers or that require replacement of leak-prone pipes, in an orderly and thoughtful manner.

It’s time for the House of Representatives to pass its own climate bill and give the Commonwealth’s gas companies permission to invest in cleaner, more reliable, affordable heating.

Larry Chretien is the Executive Director of the nonprofit Energy Consumers Alliance. Marilyn Ray Smith is a retired attorney with decades of experience working for the Commonwealth. She works with HEET and the Gas Transition Allies.