- Department of Public Utilities
Media Contact for Department of Public Utilities Approves Settlement Related to Columbia Gas’s Role in Merrimack Valley Gas Explosions
Craig Gilvarg, Press Secretary
Boston — Today, the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) issued an Order approving a settlement agreement under which Columbia Gas of Massachusetts will pay $56 million for its role in the Merrimack Valley gas explosions, leave Massachusetts and transfer its assets to Eversource Energy. These funds will provide debt relief to thousands of low-income gas customers and fund clean energy and energy efficiency measures in older homes and buildings in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover.
The settlement agreement was reached by Columbia Gas, its parent company NiSource, Eversource Energy, the Department of Energy Resources (DOER), the Attorney General’s Office, and the Low-Income Weatherization and Fuel Assistance Program Network. The agreement resolves DPU’s investigation into the company’s pipeline safety compliance and emergency response related to the September 2018 explosions.
“Our approval of this settlement ensures that Columbia Gas is held accountable for the tragic gas incident in the Merrimack Valley, and provides needed support to the impacted communities and low-income residents,” said DPU Chairman Matthew Nelson. “With today’s Order, the Department of Public Utilities remains committed to vigorous oversight of utilities and the safety of the Commonwealth’s natural gas system.”
After receiving the proposed settlement, the DPU solicited written comments on the filings and then held two separate public hearings to take oral comments. After reviewing the comments and discovery responses, the DPU found that the settlement provides net benefits to customers, is a just and reasonable result, and is in the public interest.
The asset transfer is expected to occur by November 1, at which time Eversource will be required to implement a comprehensive safety and reliability program and address any remedial actions remaining from Columbia’s pipeline safety violations from the explosion. Eversource is also required to develop a clean energy analysis to ensure that its business strategies are consistent with the Commonwealth’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction requirements.
The $56 million in settlement funds will enable the creation of an Energy Relief Fund that will help approximately 26,000 low-income customers across Columbia Gas’ service territories by erasing about $15 million in accumulated debt on their gas bills. The remaining funds will be directed to a Merrimack Valley Renewal Fund, which will provide clean energy programs and grants for residents, businesses, and municipalities in the Merrimack Valley.
After the 2018 incident, Governor Baker declared a State of Emergency and authorized Eversource to take management control over the coordinated effort to safely restore utility services in South Lawrence, Andover and North Andover. The Administration selected an independent auditor to conduct a statewide examination of the safety of the natural gas distribution system and the operational and maintenance functions of natural gas companies in the Commonwealth. To help the communities recover, the Baker-Polito Administration leveraged over $13 million in emergency funds for businesses directly impacted by the recent gas explosions in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.
To ensure the safety of the Commonwealth’s residents and energy infrastructure, on December 31, 2018, Governor Charlie Baker signed legislation previously filed by the Administration and recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that required all natural gas work that could pose a material risk to public safety be reviewed and approved by a certified professional engineer. Last year, the Baker-Polito Administration and the Northeast Gas Association also announced that all natural gas companies in Massachusetts will adopt recommended comprehensive pipeline safety management standards.