Connecticut is shelving plans to increase natural gas capacity for power plants but officials insisted Thursday that doesn’t mean they are any less committed to converting more consumers to natural gas.
“We are moving forward with large and small scale plans to convert users to natural gas,’’ Dennis Schain, a Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) spokesman, said.
Schain said that DEEP’s decision to put off power plants bids is a “totally separate issue’’ from the “overall issue of increasing gas use in the state.’’
Schain said that the decision to cancel requests for power plant proposals was based on a court ruling in Massachusetts and an administrative action in New Hampshire, which essentially found the cost of upgrading pipelines could not be passed along to ratepayers in those states.
“Everybody needs to share in the cost to move ahead with the project,’’ Schain said. “If the project benefits everyone – then everyone should pay.’’
Seven bids to increase natural gas pipeline capacity were submitted to the DEEP.
“While the evaluation of bids was underway at DEEP, administrative decisions and a court ruling in other New England states limited the likelihood that the costs of projects would be shared among a substantial portion of the region’s ratepayers,” Schain said.
He said DEEP has the power to issue future proposals to procure natural gas resources as needed and will monitor conditions in the ISO New England market to determine when to move forward.
Experts have warned that New England’s limited natural gas pipeline capacity will limit the ability to meet growing demand.
Meanwhile, the Connecticut Supreme Court is currently reviewing a lawsuit against the state filed two years ago by a trade association for more than 600 heating oil dealers, alleging it violated environmental laws when it approved a 900-mile expansion of natural gas lines without an environmental study.
The lawsuit filed by the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association (CEMA) against the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Public Utilities Regulatory Authority accuses the state of failing to do an Environmental Impact Evaluation before approving the expansion project.
Chris Herb, president of CEMA, said while the lawsuit and the power plant RFPs are “separate issues, I am glad that the DEEP made the decision to drop this bad idea.’’
The plan call for making natural gas available to up to 300,000 additional homes by building about 900 more miles of gas mains over the next decade.
“This is a victory for ratepayers,’’ Herb said. “Hopefully this will allow the state to pause, and re-think the whole issue of burdening ratepayers on unwise investments.’’
A lower court judge dismissed CEMA’S lawsuit. The association appealed to the Supreme Court. Oral arguments in the case were heard earlier this month.