Vermont Gas is getting the jump on its next public information campaign by hosting a series of community hearings for Phase III of its natural gas pipeline extending from Middlebury to Rutland. The target is to complete that section of the pipeline by 2020 at a cost between $130 million to $160 million.
For affected landowners in Middlebury, Salisbury, Leicester, Brandon and south, an open house in Brandon will be held May 8. (See story on Page 1A.)
Middlebury residents affected by the pipeline being built in Phase II, from Middlebury east to Ticonderoga, N.Y., can also attend a meeting next Tuesday, April 29, hosted by the Middlebury selectboard to explain to landowners the proposed route, landowners’ rights and what to expect during the permitting process.
On the surface, not much. The concept of the Addison-Rutland pipeline has been in the works for years; the Phase II spur was hatched a couple years ago and has been well documented as a way to build the pipeline to Rutland almost a decade earlier than previously forecast.
But it is significant that Vermont gas is connecting Phase II directly as the way it will expedite Phase III, and that the company is getting ahead of the curve in terms of reaching out to the communities involved along Phase III. Both moves signify an understanding by Vermont Gas that it will have to improve its public messaging and community outreach to win the hearts and minds of landowners and residents along the proposed routes.
But that recognition also provides the Public Service Board and Department of Public Service stronger hands to press for terms Vermont Gas must meet in order to proceed with Phase II.
It is clear that Phase II, on its own, does not meet a significant public good to Vermonters. It’s a detour that provides big money to Vermont Gas, which in turn will use some of it to build the pipeline to Rutland faster while also (we assume) sending some of the proceeds to investors. It also saves International Paper a significant amount of money, which could keep good-paying jobs in the area, and it will also reduce that plant’s carbon emissions that drift over parts of western Addison County.
In terms of fulfilling the public good, the primary benefit of Phase II to Vermonters is that it allows Vermont Gas to build the pipeline to Rutland a decade earlier and at far less cost to Vermont ratepayers because IP will underwrite about $70 million of the cost.
All that brings up a point in the conversation that has been alluded to but not directly confronted: How does Phase II differ (from Phase I and III) and should those towns and residents directly affected by the Phase II pipeline be compensated differently for their sacrifice if the pipeline is approved? Here are three numbers that would be good to know: how much will Phase II save the IP plant in terms of energy costs annually; how much will Vermont Gas net annually on the sale of gas to IP; and how much will the towns of Cornwall and Shoreham receive in terms of property tax valuation (on the pipeline).
Answers to those questions might shed light on potential solutions.
Angelo S. Lynn