Lawrence Miller: A pipeline to a better place

One of the most vibrant debates in Vermont today is how to balance our energy needs with our shared concerns about global warming and other environmental issues. Whether the conversation is about how quickly to bring renewable sources into the electric portfolio, how much to collect for efficiency projects, or what fuel sources should be used at all, there are many strong opinions and significant tradeoffs to be assessed: What’s good for the climate? What is good for the economy and, most importantly, what is good for the long-term sustainability of our communities and environment?
As I look at our energy situation through both an environmental and an economic lens I have concluded that we must pursue an “all of the above” strategy that leads to energy independence and moves us toward our climate goals. But we can’t do this without sustaining and growing jobs and nurturing the businesses that allow us to work, live and play in Vermont.
I support the extension of the Vermont Gas pipeline to Addison County, and ultimately to Rutland, because I think it makes sense as part of the total strategy for meeting our sometimes competing goals.
Energy efficiency and reducing consumption are our best solutions and Vermont is a national leader in this effort. But we must still rely on a variety of energy sources, and extracting or harnessing any source – be it a windmill, a dam or an oil rig­ – has impacts.
 In the past few weeks, we have heard of the pending closing of Vermont Yankee’s nuclear plant and learned of Governor Shumlin’s goal to meet 90 percent of the state’s energy needs with renewable resources by 2050.
Those are significant waypoints in the shifting energy landscape. But in the meantime, we need to heat our homes, we need to fuel businesses, we need energy that is affordable and available and can help us be competitive with the rest of the region and country.
 Natural gas currently provides this with cost savings that are 51 percent cheaper than fuel oil and 55 percent less than propane. Natural gas also produces at least 25 percent less carbon dioxide pollution than other fossil fuels. The natural gas pipeline can also reduce the impacts associated with trucking other fossil fuels up and down Route 7.
This natural gas pipeline may not be an ideal long-term solution, but it will provide a tangible economic boost for our community. Businesses will see immediate savings. Homeowners and renters will have extra dollars to spend on other items. Without it, we will have a more difficult time competing with businesses in other states where natural gas is already a large part of the mix.
While opponents have excellent arguments and their concerns should be heard and heeded, we need to think about the pipeline in pragmatic, economic terms and consider the use of natural gas as no more of an endorsement of the extraction process than, say, using oil is an endorsement of drilling.
 The Vermont Gas pipeline is, at this point, a lifeline for our economy and, we hope, a means to both a healthier climate and to healthier business.
Lawrence Miller is the Secretary of Commerce for the State of Vermont.

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