Eversource purchase of Columbia Gas: Councilor Jesse Lederman calls for hearing in Springfield (Mass


Read the original MassLive article by Jim Kinney here.

SPRINGFIELD — City Councilor Jesse Lederman has asked state regulators to host here in Springfield at least one of the hearings on the pending purchase of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts by Eversource Energy.

Eversource, a company made up of the former Western Massachusetts Electric Co., announced last week its plan to buy Columbia Gas' Massachusetts operations now owned by NiSource for $1.1 billion.

The acquisition could bring Columbia Gas operations in Massachusetts under local ownership by the largest energy company in New England, Eversource said. It would also give Eversource a monopoly over both the gas and electric utilities in Springfield and a number of other Massachusetts communities.

Both companies have maintenance depots and office operations in Springfield as well.

Eversource and NiSource expect to close the transaction by the end of the third quarter of this year. But first the deal needs state and federal approvals, a process that also requires a series of public hearings. The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities has not yet scheduled those hearings.

“There are many questions that need to be answered as a result of this proposed sale,” Lederman said in a news release. “Ratepayers deserve to know how this will impact their service, their rates, our infrastructure, and other programs such as energy efficiency initiatives.”

Lederman made his request in a letter to the state Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday, also calling for a focus on infrastructure, including ongoing work by Columbia Gas to plug gas leaks and replace leak-prone pipe as a part of a 2017 commitment.

“We worked hard in 2017 to secure a commitment from Columbia Gas to repair the many leaks that existed throughout the City of Springfield beginning with the largest super emitters, and since then we have worked to hold them accountable to that commitment,” said Lederman. “Any deal between Eversource and Columbia Gas should include the same commitment.”

Lederman said more clarity is needed on the future of the proposed “Greater Springfield Reliability Project,” a proposal Columbia Gas has been pursuing to construct new infrastructure off the Tennessee Gas Pipeline in Longmeadow and route it into Springfield.

“Will Eversource continue this proposed expansion once they acquire Columbia Gas?” Lederman wrote. “If so, will they follow the same timeline?”

Lederman said the city, residents and ratepayers should be made aware of the route and cost of any proposed new infrastructure as soon as possible if the company is to continue pursuing approvals for such an expansion.

“I will be closely monitoring the process as it develops,” Lederman said.

News of the pending sale came the same day as the announcement that Columbia Gas of Massachusetts has agreed to pay a criminal fine of $53 million in a plea agreement with federal prosecutors over the 2018 gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley region that killed one person, injured many others and damaged homes and businesses.

Under the asset purchase agreement, liabilities related to the Merrimack Valley explosions will remain the responsibility of Columbia Gas’ current parent company, NiSource.

Columbia Gas was also held at fault for a 2012 gas explosion in Springfield that destroyed a downtown strip club and damaged other buildings.

The city reached an $850,000 settlement with NiSource in 2013. NiSource also reached private agreements with individual landowners and businesses.

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