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Environmentalists Demand Clean Energy in Postcards to Berkshire Gas
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
03:06AM / Thursday, November 18, 2021
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Protesters from several environmental groups march to Berkshire Gas on Wednesday demanding clean energy.

The groups hoped to deliver hundreds of postcards to Berkshire Gas leadership but were asked to leave the property. They said they would be mailed. 

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Environmentalists on Wednesday attempted to deliver 150 postcards to Berkshire Gas President Sue Kristjansson that demand clean heat solutions to counteract climate change.

Members of the Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT), No Fracked Gas in Mass 350 Berkshire Node and the Mothers Out Front organization of Cambridge met at Allendale Plaza and marched to the gas company chanting "Hey Berkshire, lay off the gas."

Benjamin Downing, former state senator and gubernatorial candidate, had intended on being at the event but was unable to attend, according to the protesters.

"The local utilities decarbonization plan, they have to submit that by March, and so far drafts have mostly included hydrogen and biogas," No Fracked Gas in Mass Program Director Rosemary Wessel said.

"Hydrogen is always touted as a zero-emissions fuel, but it's not it actually, it produces nitrous oxides and it can only blend about 20 percent of that in with the natural gas before it breaks apart the infrastructure, so it's only a reduction in the amount of gas and it comes with its own hazard and what we would really like to see is them offering things like heat pumps."

The protesters were not able to deliver the postcards and were asked to leave the property by an employee.  

"I think it's really frustrating that Berkshire Gas’ reaction is, as a public utility, that we were on private property and they wouldn’t even speak to us,"  BEAT Executive Director Jane Winn said.

"Some of us are their actual ratepayers so that's frustrating, but our next step will be to mail them the postcards and request a meeting with the President and really try to work together on a plan to transition off of all these explosive fuels so we do not accept hydrogen or renewable natural gas as a solution, we want to be going to electrifying and we'd like them to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem."

Company spokesman Christopher Farrell provided the following statement from Berkshire Gas: 
"Individuals visiting our headquarters location this morning were invited to leave postcards for our president, as they indicated they wanted to do, in a mail slot at the headquarters building.
"Berkshire Gas is an active participant in the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities Docket (DPU Docket 20-80) to define the Future of Natural Gas in the Commonwealth and looks forward to supporting the state's climate goals, while also continuing to meet the energy needs of Western Massachusetts, as we have for more than 150 years." 

The protest was part of a statewide rally to pressure utility companies into clean energy solutions. By March 2022, gas companies are expected to submit plans to the state that detail how they will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero.

The environmentalists are not pleased with the plans they have heard of so far that include hydrogen or biogas blends. They say the proposals are "false solutions that are explosive, expensive, unhealthy, and still cause climate change."

A transition to biofuels would reportedly cost as much as $20 billion to replace gas piping systems, say the organizations, and they believe that those dollars would be better spent on clean heat.

Wessel said electric heat pumps and even geothermal energy are other options for clean heat.

Heat pumps work like refrigerators, using electricity to move heat from a cool space to a warm space to change the temperature. During the winter the pumps move cold air outdoors and in the summer move the cool air indoors.

The problem is that the system is expensive. It is comparably like purchasing a new furnace for a home. Wessel said part of this effort is pressuring the state to create a program that makes heat pumps affordable.

Geothermal energy uses heat in the earth to produce electricity. In Iceland, this method generates 25 percent of the country's total electricity production.

Wessel said it could be used here in the existing pipelines.

This aligns with the Mothers Out Front's Future of Clean Heat platform that advocates for all-electric homes and buildings using renewable sources for electricity, and making it affordable by redirecting funds to subsidize it.

Kris Rutman of the Western Massachusetts Labor Action also attended the protest in support of low-income families who deserve equal access to these resources, he said.

"I'm here because I'm representing the low-income community here because the lowest-income working families need two things," Rutman explained. "They need clean energy and they need affordable energy."

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