Massachusetts AG Petitions DPU to Investigate Gas Industry Future in Light of Commonwealth’s GHG Emissions Goals

On June 4, 2020, the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General (AGO) filed a petition with the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) requesting that the DPU open an investigation “to assess the future of local gas distribution company (LDC) operations and planning in light of the Commonwealth’s legally binding statewide limit of net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050.” Citing Massachusetts’ Global Warming Solutions Act, and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs’ Determination of Statewide Emissions Limit for 2020, which established the net-zero by 2050 target, the AGO asserts that implementing policies to achieve the Commonwealth’s emissions reduction goals will profoundly impact gas distribution system management, operations, and rates.

In explaining the context of its request for an investigation, the AGO notes that the California Public Utilities Commission and the New York Public Service Commission each commenced similar proceedings earlier this year. The AGO further invokes Massachusetts’ historic role and standing as a “national leader in climate action” in arguing that the DPU should act now.

The AGO’s petition proposes a two-phase investigation. In the first phase, the LDCs would submit detailed economic analyses and business plans that would address the challenges that they would face in a substantially decarbonized economy. This phase would include opportunities for stakeholder input and might also include DPU-sponsored workshops or working groups. The second phase would review proposed regulatory, legislative, and policy initiatives on which interested stakeholders could provide comments.

In making its case that the Commonwealth needs a forum for public discussion of these issues, the AGO poses several questions that the DPU could consider in an investigatory proceeding. These include: (1) How much additional LDC investment is prudent in the next 30 years to ensure a safe and reliable gas distribution system? (2) Should the Department adjust its guidelines for review of gas LDCs’ forecast and supply plans to require additional long-term forecast data? and (3) How should the Department account for affordability concerns, particularly when the number of gas customers decline as the Commonwealth electrifies its heating sector? Industry groups and environmental and consumer protection organizations have already expressed interest in responding to these questions.

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