The Department of Public Utilities 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 the state of 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.
“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,” he continued.
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.
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.