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Portsmouth to National Grid: Discontinue Old Mill Ln. facility

Council also recommends island-wide moratorium on new gas hookups

By Jim McGaw
Posted 11/24/20

PORTSMOUTH — The Town Council Monday unanimously approved a letter telling National Grid to discontinue a portable LNG facility at Old Mill Lane “as soon as possible, saying …

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Portsmouth to National Grid: Discontinue Old Mill Ln. facility

Council also recommends island-wide moratorium on new gas hookups

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — The Town Council Monday unanimously approved a letter telling National Grid to discontinue a portable LNG facility at Old Mill Lane “as soon as possible," saying it’s not an appropriate option to remedy the utility’s longterm gas supply needs.

The letter, which was originally drafted by Council Vice President Linda Ujifusa, also calls on National Grid to impose a moratorium on new gas hookups throughout Aquidneck Island, and to offer incentives for customers to incorporate energy-efficient systems such as heat pumps. The letter also requests that National Grid, when choosing options going forward, prioritize the short-term and long-term safety of the community; assess and weigh all the short-term and long-term costs and benefits to the community; and ensure that costs and benefits are fairly distributed among all community members.

At a public forum on Oct. 14 and at a council meeting on Oct. 26, representatives from National Grid outlined the four options to address its longterm gas supply issues as presented in its Aquidneck Island Long-Term Gas Capacity Study:

• major non-infrastructure changes, such as converting customers over to heat pumps and adding insulation

• a new transmission pipeline

• an LNG barge located a few miles offshore

• continuing with the portable facility at Old Mill Lane

Whatever option is chosen, the facility at Old Mill Lane, which is operational only when the demand for gas is highest from Dec. 1 to March 31, will still be used for two to three winters, according to National Grid representatives. Many residents who live near the Old Mill Lane facility have raised concerns about safety, noise, lighting and other issues.

The utility asked the council to submit a letter by Dec. 1 on what direction it would like National Grid to take, and the council was originally scheduled to vote on the matter Nov. 9. Upon a recommendation by Ms. Ujifusa, however, the council tabled the matter until Monday night so it could hear testimony from Hank Webster, the Rhode Island director of Acadia Center, a nonprofit data and policy research organization that supports energy efficiency programs. 

According to Mr. Webster, National Grid omitted pertinent information in its gas capacity study, such as the cost of all the new gas connections to buildings, as well as the fact that the cost of gas will increase as much as eight times by 2040. He also said National Grid could see its capacity issues disappear within three to four years if it put its investment into energy-efficient solutions such as heat pumps.

In addition, Mr. Webster said the cost of a new pipeline would be far more expensive than what National Grid had presented, and that gas in general imposes a more “sudden risk” when it comes to safety. Mr. Webster displayed photos of recent gas leaks and explosions along the East Coast that had led to several deaths. 

“When you are dealing with such a combustible fuel, there really are no safety options,” he said. “I respectively ask you consider all the ramifications before you bring more gas onto Aquidneck island.”

Council member Keith Hamilton voiced displeasure with parts of Mr. Webster’s presentation, saying that “showing pictures of places that have blown up is fear-mongering.”

Mr. Hamilton, who along with Council President Kevin Aguiar favored a new transmission line to the island, said a new pipeline would not only increase capacity but improve the flow of gas.

Ms. Ujifusa said she disagreed that Mr. Webster’s presentation regarding his safety concerns amounted to fear-mongering. Her objective in inviting him to speak, she said, was so the citizens could hear a viewpoint other than National Grid’s.

Mr. Aguiar said he was reluctant for the council to make any type of recommendation other than rejecting the Old Mill Lane facility as a solution. “We’re not here to solve this problem,” he said. “National Grid is going to do what they’re going to do because they supply the electricity and they supply the gas.” 

One site to another?

Tom Grieb, who lives on Thayer Drive, pointed out that National Grid raised the possibility of relocating the mobile facility to Navy property, but did not specify exactly where — including which town.

“It could go from affecting one Portsmouth neighborhood on the east side to affecting a Portsmouth neighborhood on the west side,” said Mr. Grieb, who lives on the west side.

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