Vermont Gas pitches Rutland pipeline through Pittsford

PITTSFORD — The words “natural gas pipeline” make people around here take notice, as was evident from the full house at a recent Pittsford selectboard meeting.
Vermont Gas Systems Inc. was on the agenda, outlining a very preliminary plan to run a natural gas pipeline down through Rutland County. The pipeline would follow completion of a pipeline from Colchester through Addison County, which is still in the permitting stages.
The South Burlington company’s controversial plans to run a Phase II pipeline from Middlebury west through Cornwall and Shoreham and under Lake Champlain to the International Paper mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y., have been well publicized. Phase I involves building a gas transmission pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury. The company hopes Phase I will receive a Certificate of Public Good from the Public Service Board by the end of 2013.
About 20 people filled the small meeting room at the Pittsford town offices Dec. 4 to hear the plan presented by Vermont Gas Vice President Eileen Simollardes.
In her presentation, Simollardes said that the expansion plans further south are possible as the company has been collecting and saving the extra money since a rate change in 2011.
“It belongs to our customers, it doesn’t belong to us,” she said. “But, it really got us looking at the next step.”
International Paper is involved, she said, because the company will help pay to bring the pipeline south to the tune of $45 million, 15 years earlier than the gas company had hoped.
There is not even a tenuous plan for the route of a Phase III pipeline, which would bring a gas transmission line down the Route 7 corridor from Addison County to Rutland, through Pittsford, Simollardes said.
“We don’t have a route plan yet, she said, “But, it’s a real opportunity and we’re really looking forward to engaging the Pittsford community. It could be a real game-changer for residents here.”
By that, Simollardes meant that some residents, depending on their proximity to the proposed pipeline, could save $2,000 a year on energy costs, Vermont Gas projects.
As far as a timeline goes, Simollardes said that having a working natural gas pipeline to Rutland by 2020 “is definitely in (the company’s) sights.”
The town of Pittsford would benefit to the tune of roughly $2 million per mile in tax revenue should the pipeline go through, Simollardes said, since the taxes would be figured based on the book value of the pipe.
Of the roughly 600 potential gas customers in Pittsford, Simollardes acknowledged that not everyone would be able to connect to the pipeline since feasibility would depend on location.
The line, which would measure either 10 or 12 inches around, would be buried roughly three to four feet deep, but in sensitive areas could go much deeper, Simollardes said.
In wrapping up, the company vice president said that Vermont Gas wants to hear from residents.
“We would like feedback from the community along the way about the pipeline,” she said. “There’s a lot of room for community input and we’re very interested in hearing from you.”
Then, the input came. Bethany Berry Menkart, a former Leicester resident who now lives in Cornwall, noted that there has been a great deal of opposition to the Phase II pipeline plan from residents of Cornwall and Shoreham.
Some of the most potent resistance comes from socio-political opposition to how the natural gas is extracted from deep within the earth through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. It involves fracturing rock using pressurized liquid. Some hydraulic fractures form naturally, but often companies use methods where water is mixed with sand and chemicals, and the mixture is injected at high pressure into a wellbore to create small fractures to extract the natural gas from the earth. It is an economically beneficial way for utility companies to collect natural gas from formerly inaccessible areas. However, opponents point to the potential for groundwater contamination (companies who frack don’t say what chemicals they put into the earth because they are deemed trade secrets), risks to air quality, noise pollution, and the migration of dangerous gases and chemicals to the earth’s surface.
Berry Menkart said that the Vermont Gas pipeline project would be a transmission line for fracked gas from Canada.
“What (Simollardes) is not saying is what this does to wildlife and property,” Berry Menkart said. “This is a step in the wrong direction, to build the largest fossil fuel mechanism in 50 years in this state is wrong.”
Berry Menkart also said that the prospect of running a gas pipeline under Lake Champlain, where there is a fault line, is extremely dangerous. She added that Simollardes did not mention the connection fees. The Vermont Gas vice president said she would be happy to outline the fees, which range from a “few hundred dollars” for an existing propane customer to $1,200- $3,000 for residents to convert to gas. She added that the company has a program in place to help those customers pay for the conversion over time.
But Berry Menkart was unmoved.
“It’s not ‘presto’ there’s a pipeline and everybody gets cheap gas,” she said. “I am a voice representing thousands of people who are against this fracked gas process.”
But Simollardes told the audience that she lives near the transmission line in Milton herself, and that she sees the pipeline expansion as a win-win.
“I can’t think of another project that offers as much opportunity for the state as this,” she said. “You make a lot of good comments. There isn’t an energy source in the world that does not come with trade-offs.”

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