The proposed Access Northeast expansion by Algonquin Gas Transmission and Maritimes & Northeast pipelines is still in the prefiling stage with FERC, but groups are already weighing in on both sides of the project.

In a series of filings this week with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Audubon Center Bent of the River, the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA) and the Pipe Line Awareness Network (PLAN) commented on the project, which is under development by Spectra Energy Corp., Eversource Energy and National Grid.

Access Northeast, to traverse New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, would serve electric generation needs in New England. The mostly brownfield expansion would include 123 miles of mainline and looping pipeline, modifications to seven existing compressor stations, a new compressor station and a liquefied natural gas peaking facility. FERC issued a notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement in late April. The project is targeting service for late 2018.

Though nearly all (95%) of the proposed route would fall on existing rights of way, the Audubon Center told FERC that the project would still impact endangered species, specifically noting that the expansion would cross a conservation easement held by the National Audubon Society.

“While this proposed project is being done along an existing right of way and pipeline, the new impacts of the expansion of the right of way and access by construction vehicles and work crews will impact areas that have already endangered species and species of concern,” Audubon Center Director Leslie MacLise-Kane told FERC. MacLise-Kane urged FERC to “carefully weigh the width of the proposed expansion necessary in this ecologically sensitive area that is a protected conservation property.”

The CBIA wrote in support of Access Northeast, noting how high energy prices drive up the cost of doing business in Connecticut. “The leading factor is the lack of sufficient natural gas infrastructure directly connected to power plants,” Associate Counsel Eric Brown wrote. “Because New England relies upon clean-burning natural gas for approximately 60% of its power needs, our constrained natural gas infrastructure drives New England’s energy prices higher, limiting economic competitiveness and growth, and straining energy infrastructure systems to the point where public safety and security are threatened during winter peak energy demand times.”

Though prices at key New England trading points did not experience extreme spikes this past winter because of milder temperatures, analysts have said the recipe for price volatility remains (see Daily GPI, April 11).

PLAN, echoing previous accusations from conservation groups of improper segmentation of pipeline projects (see Daily GPI, March 10), said FERC should combine its environmental review with two nearby Spectra projects that are further along in the regulatory process -- Algonquin Incremental Market and Atlantic Bridge (see Daily GPI, May 2; March 4). PLAN submitted a list of other issues it said FERC should consider, including “a discussion of the existing global environment with respect to greenhouse gas emissions.”

New England-focused pipeline projects have had a tough go recently. Backers of Constitution Pipeline LLC are battling with New York after regulators denied a required water permit to move forward (see Daily GPI, April 25). Citing lack of customer commitments, Kinder Morgan Inc. also pulled the plug on Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s Northeast Energy Direct (NED) project, viewed as a direct competitor with Access Northeast (see Daily GPI, May 23).

During Spectra’s 1Q2016 earnings call, CEO Greg Ebel said Access Northeast, which has executed contracts with electric distribution companies totaling more than 50% of the 0.9 Bcf/d designed capacity, is targeting a different market than NED (see Daily GPI, May 4).