LETTER: East End Resident Urges Alternatives to New Gas Lines

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Over the last half year or so, my East End neighborhood has been torn up by National Grid in an epic quest to replace our 100-year-old leaky gas lines. The local contractors have been doing a great job and overall I don’t have any immediate complaints about their work. However, I wonder if all this upheaval is a huge waste?

Our old gas lines have been in the ground for 100 years, and are very leaky. The methane that leaks from these lines is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change and I definitely agree that these leaks need to stop. However, there has to be a better way than this. Right now, taxpayers and ratepayers have invested huge piles of money to put in new lines carrying gas to all our homes that will be in the ground for decades to come. Nobody seems to have stopped to notice that this is totally crazy! Massachusetts has committed to Net Zero Carbon Emissions by 2050 which means that we need to near-completely stop burning natural gas in our homes within the next 30 years. Why make a 100-year investment that you can only use for 30 years??

Instead of spending these huge amounts of money to put in new lines, surely it would be cheaper for whoever is paying for this work, to instead pay to electrify the appliances of every home in the neighborhood, and then just shut off gas service? Many people object to the up-front cost of new efficient electric heat pumps, water heaters, induction stoves, and dryers. But in this instance, we’re more than paying for that cost by paying for all this new line work! This would have been a great opportunity to take the lead on moving towards a pollution free future, but instead we’re wasting time and money doubling down on obsolete technology that we will have to abandon in less than a generation.

Obviously the die is already cast for my neighborhood, but I urge our local and state policymakers to come up with new creative solutions to substitute this wasteful spending on the past with smart investment in our future. Hopefully I will soon hear that another Watertown neighborhood becomes the first replace old leaky gas lines with clean electricity rather than with more gas.

Matthew Lashof-Sullivan
Molloy Street

10 thoughts on “LETTER: East End Resident Urges Alternatives to New Gas Lines

    • The idea is that the money that is currently going towards replacing gas lines would instead go towards replacing your appliances and updating your electrical systems. I’m not proposing out-of-pocket costs for residents. I’m proposing re-allocating existing public spending to better purposes.

  1. Where does all the electrical energy come from when all the current natural gas stoves, heaters, etc. all replaced with electrical options? The majority of electric power in Massachusetts comes from natural gas, so this is just robbing Peter to pay Paul. While I understand that fossil fuels are not a permanent solution, natural gas is a pretty good alternative for at least the next few decades. Implemented too quickly, this sort of pie in the sky environmental thinking will bankrupt people who are already struggling to pay their bills. Has the author priced out the cost per BTU of electric heating versus an efficient natural gas burner?

    • It’s true that today we are generating a lot of electricity from gas. But non-polluting energy sources are increasing year-on-year and we have required the grid to be majority renewable by 2030. I don’t think it makes sense to wait until the entire grid is green before electrifying existing gas use — these things need to happen in parallel. New heat pumps are more efficient than gas furnaces anyway, and then if you have a heat pump your heating essentially gets greener and greener every year without you having to take any additional action.

      Regarding cost per BTU, new heat pumps cost less per BTU than gas: https://masslandlords.net/heat-pumps-now-cheaper-per-btu-natural-gas/

      So not only will we be investing in the future we will actually save money for homeowners today. 5 years ago you would have been right but heat pump technology has come a long way and some things that didn’t make sense 5 years ago do make sense today because of this.

      • Heat pumps are not more cost effective than NG.
        I have a home that is part heated with NG and part that is heated with electric.
        The NG part of the house is roughly 80% of the house and the electric is 20%
        The heating bills for the NG, even though it’s 80% of the house is less than the bill for electric. I understand the new heat pumps are rated as being much more efficient but at what cost? Not a cost I can afford.
        We need NG still and for some years to come. Best to eliminate the gas leaks from the old lines now rather than keep having these leaks contributing to the climate problems.
        While your intention is good I believe we need to do ALL we can to address the needs of residential heating and cooling.

        • It’s possible you have electric resistive heat, rather than a heat pump. Electric resistive heat really is very inefficient!

  2. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that in 2018, methane emissions from natural gas and petroleum systems and from abandoned oil and natural gas wells were the source of about 29% of total U.S. methane emissions and about 3% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions

  3. Both Eversource and National Grid have pilot programs to replace gas lines with microgrids which use existing (repaired) lines to carry geothermal energy to either a neighborhood or a multistory building. And yes, we need to clean the grid!

  4. I live in the east end and national grid came to check my meters and found that they needed to be updated/replaced. When the man came to change the meters he found that there was a small gas leak. Within an hour the national grid team was here along with watertown finish to begin the work of running a hose like pipe from the Main Street gas line to my house. What they do is thread this hose into the 100 year old gas line. So the gas goes through the new hose and not the leaky old pipe. Wouldn’t that be cheaper than new appliances or replacing the old gas pipes?

  5. I have lived for the past year with the street next to me being worked on for gas lines. Yes, it’s noisy but to suggest that everyone in Watertown, or anywhere else, depend solely on electricity for heat, fuel, etc. is just a wee bit ludicrous. Everyone who is in panic over climate change and the greenhouse gas should stop for a minute and give a bit of thought to the rest of the world and what other countries, not us, are doing to make it worse! This country cannot save the world and with the leaders we have, few will listen anyway. Why would other major powers even pay attention to what we say when this countries leaders, both past and present, have engaged in attempts at nation building that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, trillions of dollars and for what, since those who we try to save are worse off when we depart?

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