PROVIDENCE — Is the answer to a projected shortfall in natural gas supplies on Aquidneck Island a new facility that can tap into liquefied stores of the fossil fuel, or can a solution be found by tamping down usage, converting more customers to electric heat and putting an end to new gas connections?
“We look at the Aquidneck Island case as really being representative of this broader concern of whether it makes sense to keep building gas infrastructure,” said Hank Webster, Acadia’s Rhode Island director. “The community has expressed a preference that the infrastructure does not get built. But it seems like this filing is taking us in the opposite direction.”
Acadia sees the island as the perfect place to begin changing the state’s heating sector, which accounts for about 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s in part because of location. The island sits at one of the endpoints of the pipeline network that sends gas around New England, and with only one connection to that system — a line running across the Sakonnet River into Portsmouth — it’s more vulnerable to problems than other areas of the state.
The organization is proposing a moratorium on new connections to the gas system on the island and then switching customers to electric heat pumps and implementing more efficiency measures.
Even its most expensive alternative — weatherizing nearly 5,000 homes at a cost of $48.6 million — would be cheaper than National Grid’s spending over just the next three years, according to Acadia’s analysis. The group’s cheapest option — switching about 3,000 gas customers to high-efficiency water heaters — is estimated at $9.2 million.
Webster says utility companies generally make more money by building infrastructure, so they’re more likely to put in more pipelines. Faced with rising pushback, they’re rushing to get approvals for new investments now, he argues.
“We believe that much of the infrastructure in this docket will become stranded assets in very short order,” he said.
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