By Hiroko Sato

MediaNews

GROTON -- Kevin Kelly believes Massachusetts desperately needs more natural gas imported from elsewhere in the country, whether it's going to be done by Tennessee Gas Pipeline, which is proposing a 129-mile new pipeline, or another entity.

With more coal-fired and nuclear plants shutting down, there isn't enough energy to meet the demands, said Kelly, manager of the Groton Electric Light Department.

Jim O'Reilly said, however, there is more to TGP, a Kinder Morgan subsidiary's project, than meets the eye.

The governors of the six states in New England do not want constituents to think they did nothing about the imbalance of supply and demand of energy and let electricity rates skyrocket, said O'Reilly, director of public policy for Lexington-based Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnership.

"Politics is driving this," O'Reilly told the crowd gathering for Groton's information session on the TGP project on Monday night.

In the meantime, Dennis Eklof, who is experienced in the energy field, said he can see both sides of the argument.

"I can see the need (for more gas) on one side, and I can see all the detriments on the other," Eklof said.

With some energy experts among the members of the panel Monday night, the Board of Selectmen tried to answer a range of questions from residents who are concerned about TGP's project to run a natural-gas pipeline across northern Massachusetts, including the northern end of Groton.

This was the second informational session of the type organized by town officials. There will be a third session next Monday, which Kinder Morgan representatives are expected to participate in for the first time.

The panel Monday included Groton residents Colleen Sullivan and Peter Jeffrey, who presented a slide show with photos of proposed work sites and some neighborhoods in other states where markings for a gas pipeline dot the landscape.

Selectman Joshua Degen moderated the discussion, asking the panel to answer many questions submitted by residents in writing beforehand and taking questions from the audience.

The discussion in part focused on the proposal by New England States Committee on Electricity to have rate-payers shoulder the cost of TGP's project. That's because O'Reilly said Kinder Morgan does not have contracts from utility companies for the purchase of additional gas to come through the pipeline, and it's a way for Independent System Operator New England to push for the project.

The idea of passing the risk of the project onto ratepayers is "unprecedented," Eklof said, adding that he hopes the idea will die off.

Many of the panelists said that residents must speak up their opposition and contact congressional and state lawmakers to build political pressure because the approval for the project will be in the end in the hands of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Next Monday's session will take place at Lawrence Academy at 7 p.m.