Politically Thinking: Vt. Gas decisions made elsewhere

Letters to the editor, columns, and editorials in recent issues of the Independent have criticized Vermont Gas Systems for trying to obtain approval of the Addison Natural Gas project without allowing sufficient time for public consultation and revising the proposal in response to public concerns. One reason for this criticism may be that although Vermont Gas Systems has the word “Vermont” in its name, the gas company is really a subsidiary of a large Canadian energy complex that is owned by an interlocking network of pension funds and gas producers all across Canada.
Vermont Gas Systems was established in 1965 to provide natural gas service to Franklin and Chittenden counties through a connection to the Canadian gas distribution network at the border at Highgate. The company operated independently for about 20 years. In 1986, it was purchased by Gaz Métro, the Montreal-based utility that distributes gas in much of Quebec, and through Highgate to Vermont. Gaz Métro continued to acquire Vermont utilities, purchasing Green Mountain Power in 2007 and Central Vermont Public Service in 2012. CVPS was then merged into GMP. Thus, Vermont’s largest electric and gas utilities are now owned by Gaz Métro.
Gaz Métro started in 1955 as the Quebec Natural Gas Corporation, a privately owned company established to connect Montreal and surrounding areas in Quebec to the North American gas distribution network, which at that time did not extend east of Ontario. Over the next decade, QNGC built out its network in Quebec, including the connection to Vermont. In 1969, as Quebec was emphasizing its French roots and the French language, QNGC changed its name to Gaz Métropolitain. In 1981, the government of Quebec began purchasing shares in the company, by then commonly known as Gaz Métro. By the mid-1980s, Gaz Métro was completely owned by pension and investment funds affiliated with the Quebec provincial government.
Currently, Gaz Métro sits at the center of a complex network of subsidiary and parent corporations. Gaz Métro is the sole owner of Northern New England Energy Corporation, which in turn is the sole owner of Vermont Gas Systems, Green Mountain Power, and the Portland Natural Gas Transmission System. Portland Natural Gas is also the subject of controversy in Vermont. Some environmentalists believe the company wants to export “dirty” tar sands oil from Alberta through its pipeline from Montreal to Portland, Maine, which traverses Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.
A minority interest in Gaz Métro — 29 percent — is held by a publicly traded corporation named Valener Inc., whose shares are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Valener is not independent of Gaz Métro, since the same individuals serve as officers of both corporations. The majority interest in Gaz Métro — 71 percent — is held by a Montreal-based corporation known as Noverco Inc. Noverco is itself owned by two other Canadian entities.
The bulk of Noverco — 61 percent — is owned by Trencap Inc., a closely held Canadian corporation whose owners are several pension funds in Quebec and British Columbia that provide retirement benefits to both public and private employees in those provinces. The remaining 39 percent share of Noverco — which through its subsidiaries controls Vermont Gas Systems — is held by IPL System Inc., which is itself a wholly owned subsidiary of Enbridge Inc. Enbridge is a Calgary-based company that distributes crude oil and natural gas from Alberta throughout Canada and the United States.
Thus, although Vermont Gas Systems has local management in South Burlington, the ultimate decisions about the company’s direction are made in board rooms in Montreal and in Calgary.
Eric L. Davis is professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College.

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