Statement on 2015-11-16 to Acton Board of Selectmen from Jim Snyder-Grant about new gas pipelines in Acton

I want to speak in favor of not adding new natural gas lines in Acton.

We’ve had a lively discussion about this in Green Acton. (You’ll  see some of us in the audience tonight…). Since you are considering allowing some new gas distribution lines to be extended in to parts of Acton, it seemed time to share that conversation with you.  Part of Green Acton’s mission is to protect our environment for future generations, and that’s the issue with the new gas lines.

As a Green Community, Acton has taken on the challenge of reducing its climate change impact by reducing energy use and emissions of greenhouse gases. Natural gas, primarily composed of methane, is a potent greenhouse gas. As the EPA explains, “Pound for pound, the comparative impact of [methane] on climate change is more than 25 times greater than [that of] CO2 over a 100-year period.”

Every time we bring gas to a new house in Acton, we lock in another natural gas user, typically for decades. The urgency of doing what we can about climate change strongly suggests that the first thing we should be doing is to stop making things worse.

The utilities will tell us that cleanly burned natural gas emits very little or no methane into the air, but what they leave out is all the leaks along the way, in production and distribution. This year, court action finally compelled the Massachusetts natural gas utilities to release information on leaks in their distribution system that they have failed to fix. That’s 20,000 leaks in Massachusetts, and 171 are in Acton. The gas companies work to a very low standard under the current regulations: they only fix leaks that create a risk of explosion. The rest just leak out into the air and poison our future. The cost of that leaked gas is just rolled into the rates we customers pay. I encourage the town to contact our legislators and the state DPU to express the need to change the regulations so that these leaks get fixed.

Near as I can tell from the maps, the two areas in Acton to be considered tonight for new pipelines are for new construction, so we aren’t displacing oil or coal heat, which is one of the few possibly justifiable reasons to bring in natural gas. By that I mean that depending on how you estimate the rate of natural gas leaks during production and transmission, heating with oil or coal both have a somewhat higher greenhouse gas impact than heating with natural gas. But new construction in Acton, because of our Stretch Energy Code, creates the sort of well-insulated, efficient buildings that are perfect candidates for mini-split heat pumps and other solutions that don’t require fossil fuels to be piped into houses.

I am here tonight because I think it’s time for the building and planning departments to tell developers that come in with houses that require natural gas, “You know, citizens are showing up to speak up against adding new natural gas pipelines. You might have an easier time if you choose an alternative fuel source, and you’d be helping Acton’s carbon footprint.  And by the way, have you oriented the roofs and planned the landscaping to allow rooftop solar?”

Acton is doing a good job on some aspects of the transition to a renewable energy future. The town’s support of the Solarize program, the construction of the large solar array on the landfill, and all of the efficiency and renewable energy projects the town has taken on as part of the Green Communities act are all examples.

I recommend that the staff and the BoS take up the matter of new gas infrastructure as part of a larger discussion of how Acton, as a municipality, can best contribute to a transition to renewable energy in all the aspects of our municipal operations, including permitting.  

Thank-you.

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