Opinion: Vermont Gas credibility on pipeine effectiveness questioned

I am writing in reference to former Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas’ guest editorial July 27. In his editorial, Mr. Douglas laid out all the benefits that the VGS gas transmission pipeline will bring to the towns of Middlebury and Vergennes. Unfortunately, like many other proponents, he skips over the other important part of the equation, which is where is the money coming from to pay for it.
We know the pipeline is not being paid for by new customers from these two towns, who would have to fork out $55,000 each if they had to pay ($154 million for 3,000 potential customers). If this was the case I am sure there would be less enthusiasm. Certainly there would be a lot more scrutiny of VGS’s out-of-control costs. We also know it’s certainly not coming from VGS or Gaz Métro.
No, the money is actually coming from Chittenden County and Franklin County customers who might have thought the original price tag of $65 million was a stretch but now are faced with a $154 million debt that they will be paying down for the next 35 years. (Actually the number is closer to $164 million if you add in the distribution piping within the towns). It is believed that one in five of these customers is on Social Security, and before the debt is paid off this will be one in three. In addition a 15 percent to 19 percent rate increase can be expected to help pay for it (reference the PSB hearing of June 22 and 23).
While it is hard to argue that cheaper fuel would not be a benefit, it seems in the “get gas at all costs” frenzy that common sense has been forgotten. To continue to pat VGS on the back as doing a bang-up job when it is obvious to many that it is not, as they continue to stumble along, cycling through consultants and managers and contractors, is misguided. Their ill-conceived plan to send gas over to New York was in conflict with VGS’ own mission statement that is to serve Vermonters. Their inability to plan and accurately project costs has resulted in them being way behind schedule and with a cost that has doubled; their inability to manage their contractors has resulted in a $10 million lawsuit. Deceiving the PSB, PSD and ratepayers has resulted in a $100,000 fine.
To date VGS has completed 10 percent to 15 percent of the project for about $60 million (reference the PSB hearing of June 22 and 23), however are still on target to meet the $154 million. Go figure that out. The list of errors gets added to monthly and it is daunting. It appears no matter how much VGS screws up or what the cost escalates to, proponents claim it is still cost effective.
VGS and its proponents want to extend the pipeline from Middlebury to Rutland with an estimated price tag of a further $120 million (which probably will double based on their track record). When added to the $164 million Phase I, that’s over a quarter billion dollars that would be removed from the Vermont economy, paid for with the hard-earned cash of ratepayers. It’s hard to comprehend the cost effectiveness of such a pricey project.
This 42-mile-long high-pressure gas transmission pipeline, designed around supplying International Paper in New York, was ill conceived and wasted a lot of people’s time and money before Phase II was cancelled. This legacy pipeline has now become a high-priced white elephant that is unaffordable and needs to be scrapped. It is hoped that the PSB and the PSD will come to the same conclusion in their current deliberations.
If these towns still want gas, then all parties need to go back to the drawing board and if necessary, revisit PSB docket 7712, the original, simpler and cheaper plan five years ago. This plan proposed running a 13-mile plastic distribution pipe from Shelburne to Vergennes and then on to Middlebury. Sad to say if more attention had been paid to this simpler plan these towns probably would have had gas by now.
Ivor Hughes, Monkton

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