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    Utility proposes tank project to ease natural gas moratorium

    September 19, 2022 - DENNIS HOHENBERGER - Special to The Republican


      Hope of easing a longstanding commercial and residential natural gas moratorium may be drawing near. Holyoke Gas and Electric plans to build a liquid natural gas tank on Muller Road.

      James Lavelle, HG&E’s general manager, announced the proposed project at a recent City Council’s Finance Committee meeting.

      For several years, Lavelle sought to replace natural gas lines unable to carry the load. However, plans for the newer, wider pipes drew resistance from residents and environmental groups.

      In the meantime, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts was acquired by utility giant Eversource. As a result, the attention shifted from natural gas to boost the region’s electric supply.

      Lavelle said while HG&E pursues a net-zero carbon future, the moratorium began in January 2019. Natural demand increased, but supplies were limited because of the pipeline situation. The Columbia Gas project “fell by the wayside.”

      The utility will file a project plan with the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. The new tank would boost HG&E’s liquid natural gas storage capacity at its West Holyoke Facility, where four tanks exist.

      According to Lavelle, the site was designed and permitted for five tanks, but budgetary constraints halted the fifth tank build. “It will give us the capacity and redundancy we need to get through this interim period and be able to entertain requests for new natural gas service,” he said.

      Lavelle added the project was not considered “huge,” but with the 70,000-gallon capacity, HG&E must get state approval. He expects to apply in mid-November, followed by public hearings.

      HG&E began contacting abutters to the Mueller Road facility, Lavelle noted. The Muller Road site currently has a capacity of over 220,000 gallons. He added that HG&E remains dependent on Mueller Road during peak-winter days.

      “It’s a reliability project more than anything. On a peak-winter day, 40% of the city’s heating load is carried by that liquid natural gas facility,” Lavelle said.” So if there’s ever an interruption of service with the pipeline that would be an unfortunate situation.”

      The new tank equates to a day-and-a-half of storage capacity, providing time to respond to potential pipeline disruptions. Lifting the moratorium would be a selective process as the Commonwealth’s newest climate bill requires net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 for energy suppliers.

      “We’ll encourage people, where it makes sense, to convert to electric heating systems. But it doesn’t make sense in all situations,” Lavelle said. The state approval process takes a year and then a two-year construction phase.

      Ongoing supply chain issues could affect the project’s timeline. “This is the only option available, this increase of storage,” Lavelle said. A large customer base heats their home with oil or propane and would like to switch to a cleaner fuel.

      Ward 5 Councilor Linda Vacon thanked HG&E for meeting with constituents about the proposed tank project.

      Councilor At-large Kevin Jourdain said the moratorium impacted residents and business development. His order looked to find a solution to end the moratorium and offer green-energy alternatives without burdening customers.

      “We have enough things going against us that other communities don’t have,” he said. “We don’t need to have one arm tied behind our back with this gas moratorium. I know this was something HG&E did not want to do but felt compelled to do.”


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