Written on: April 13, 2017 by ICM
Dan D’Ambrosio, Burlington (VT) Free Press Staff Writer
The 41-mile Vermont Gas pipeline extension into Addison County is finished, the utility announced Wednesday, after more than three years, $165 million and countless protests.
Don Rendall, president and CEO of Vermont Gas, said as of Wednesday afternoon four business customers in Middlebury are connected to natural gas service provided by the pipeline extension.
“Now that the project is completed and we’re fully commissioned, we’ll be rolling out the service to families and businesses throughout Middlebury,” Rendall said. “We’ve got a lot of folks who have already let us know they’re interested and we look forward to having several hundred customers up and running by next heating season.”
Initially, natural gas service will be available only in Middlebury, but over the next couple of years Rendall said Vermont Gas will extend service to other towns along the pipeline’s route, such as Vergennes, New Haven and Bristol. He said ultimately the pipeline extension will serve as many as 4,000 families and businesses in Addison County.
“Our competitive offering today is substantially below the cost average retail price for propane and fuel oil,” Rendall said.
The cost of natural gas is currently 12 percent below the cost of fuel oil, and 49 percent below the cost of propane, according to the Vermont Department of Public Service.
In 2014, Vermont Gas estimated natural gas would save close to 50 percent compared to propane or heating oil, despite announcing the cost of the pipeline has soared by 40 percent because of increased construction costs, changes to accommodate people living along the route and “enhanced project oversight.”
Supreme Court decision pending
Approved by the Vermont Public Service Board in December 2013, the pipeline extension has been plagued by increasing costs and disruptive protests from Rising Tide and others who object to “fracking,” the process by which natural gas is extracted by forcing fluids under high pressure into gas-bearing formations beneath the earth’s surface.
Protesters also objected to what they saw as a project that delays the conversion to renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar.
The Vermont Supreme Court is still considering a case in which opponents of the pipeline argue the Public Service Board was wrong to allow Vermont Gas to run the pipeline beneath Geprags Park in Hinesburg. Vermont Gas has posted a $1 million bond to cover the cost of removing the pipeline and restoring the land in case the high court rules against it.
Rendall said he’s not sure when the court will rule on the case.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we have a decision from the Supreme Court,” he said.
Capped at $134 million
When the pipeline extension was initially approved, Vermont Gas put the price tag for Phase 1 from Colchester to Middlebury at about $86 million. The final cost was nearly double that amount at $165 million, but Vermont Gas agreed to a cost cap of $134 million, put in place by the Public Service Board.
Rendall said Gaz Metro, Vermont Gas’ Montreal-based parent company, will absorb the $31 million differential between the cost cap and the actual cost of the project.
“That is our commitment to existing and new customers, that we would absorb the additional cost without passing it on by raising rates, which means we’ve taken responsibility,” Rendall said.
When the pipeline project was first announced, it included second and third phases that would bring natural gas service to the International Paper plant in Ticonderoga and to Rutland, respectively. Vermont Gas dropped both those phases as costs and protests escalated.
Rendall said Wednesday the utility has no “current plan” to extend the pipeline beyond Middlebury.
“Today is about the families and businesses in Addison County who have been so patient in waiting for natural gas service,” Rendall said. “We’re excited to bring it to them.”
Article courtesy: Burlington (VT) Free Press