Gas firm pitches to city council

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen on Tuesday heard Vermont Gas Systems officials tout the potential benefits to city residents and businesses of a natural gas pipeline that the company hopes by 2015 to extend from Chittenden County to Addison County.
The preliminary path along Route 7 would allow Vermont Gas to serve the densely populated areas of Vergennes, said company President and CEO Don Gilbert.
Under a plan Vermont Gas is pitching to the Public Service Board (PSB) to help pay for extending the natural gas pipeline, company officials project gas could be roughly 30 percent cheaper than heating oil.
Currently, Gilbert said, natural gas is about 40 percent cheaper than fuel oil. Vermont Gas is seeking permission from the PSB not to lower rates further even though the wholesale gas price is continuing to fall because of what Gilbert called “very strong supply.”
Gilbert said Vermont gas would use savings from rates kept artificially higher to create a reserve fund. That fund would then by 2015 help pay for pipeline extension, a project that Gilbert said would otherwise be too expensive to serve a projected 3,000 Addison County customers.
Aldermen were generally receptive, but did not immediately act on Gilbert’s request for city support for Vermont Gas in front of the PSB. The council agreed to put the question on its May 10 agenda.
Vermont Gas will be before the PSB on May 11 for a hearing in which the public may comment on its plan to fund the pipeline extension through the reserve fund.
Gilbert said Vermont Gas has been in business since 1965 and serves 45,000 customers in Franklin and Chittenden counties, using gas purchased from Canada. Most, but not all, of that gas comes from deep wells in Alberta. Gilbert acknowledged an undetermined amount of the company’s product comes from hydrofracturing shale, a process that has drawn some environmental concern for possible groundwater pollution.
Gilbert said Vermont Gas favors strict government regulation of the hydrofracturing process, which he maintained can be done cleanly with no adverse environmental impact.
He said natural gas has a lesser carbon footprint than either fuel oil or propane, both because there is less carbon in the product and because trucks are not needed to deliver the product.
Not counting the reduced truck traffic, he said if Vermont Gas served 3,000 Addison County customers for 20 years that it would replace 6.3 million gallons of fuel oil and eliminate 16 tons of greenhouse gases.
In response to questions from aldermen, company officials said most oil- or propane-burning furnaces could be converted to natural gas for $700 or $800, that the pipeline would in most cases run along roads on public property, and that the company had a good track record of dealing with property owners when buying necessary rights-of-way.
“We’ve found we’ve been able to work well with towns and landowners,” Gilbert said.
In other business, aldermen:
•  Heard from City Manager Mel Hawley that he had successfully appealed the city’s 2009 Common Level of Appraisal, and Vergennes would be receiving $23,000 from the state it was overcharged in taxes that year.
•  Were told by Hawley that the long-awaited “Riverwalk” project would begin in June. That project, for which a grant was first awarded almost a decade ago, will include a concrete stairway down to the Otter Creek basin, beginning on the east side of the Main Street bridge.
•  Voted to stop charging $8.80 a year in “bonded debt” to the eight city property owners whose buildings are not hooked up to the city sewer system. The money those property owners have paid over the years will be credited toward the cost of hooking up should they choose to do so in the future.
•  Approved new rates for the city’s recycling center. Because of lower tipping fees, the city’s cost fell from $31,200 to $26,000.
Also, the cost for center use to the towns of Addison, Panton and Waltham will drop by about $1,000 each to $5,200, and Ferrisburgh’s cost will drop by roughly $2,000 to $10,400.
•  Approved spending $200 of city money to buy newspaper ads to promote the Vergennes Farmers’ Market.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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