As proposals to build new pipelines and related infrastructure meet opposition from community leaders and environmental activists across Massachusetts, gas companies have frozen new gas hookups several communities citing a lack of pipeline capacity.

The Berkshire Eagle  reports since late January, Holyoke Gas & Electric and Middleborough Gas and Electric have imposed moratoriums on new residential natural gas hookups, adding Holyoke, Southampton and Middleborough to a list of about a dozen towns already under similar freezes.

"While inexpensive natural gas has never been more plentiful in the United States, there is insufficient pipeline capacity in our region to deliver additional load," HG&E wrote in its Jan. 28 announcement.

HG&E, which serves about 9,900 gas meters in Holyoke and Southampton, said existing customers can make upgrades to their service so long as their usage does not increase and that the utility "may be able to accommodate certain commercial and industrial requests" depending on the project's specific load profile.

The HG&E moratorium is not the first in western Massachusetts. Berkshire Gas Co. has had a new hookup moratorium in eight Franklin and Hampshire county towns for about four years and Columbia Gas has had a moratorium on new natural gas service in Northampton and Easthampton since 2014.

Last week, Middleborough Gas and Electric said that "due to the lack of new natural gas capacity in the region," it will no longer be able to "meet requests for new natural gas service as of February 2019."

In recent years, pipeline projects have been met with increasing opposition from environmental activists and community leaders. Kinder Morgan's Northeast Energy Direct pipeline project was scrapped amid widespread opposition and recently activists and municipal leaders on the South Shore have waged a months long opposition campaign against a natural gas compressor station planned for Weymouth.

HG&E said that it has evaluated several options for increasing capacity and identified a solution that involves its cooperation with Columbia Gas on that utility's slate of planned expansion projects in the lower Pioneer Valley.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported Tuesday that demand for natural gas in New England registered at 4.34 billion cubic feet per day and that the regional pipeline was operating at 77.1 percent capacity. The agency said that during a brief cold snap in January, "increased heating demand strained the natural gas system as natural gas consumption in the region, on January 21, 2019, reached their highest level this winter."

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