Opinion: AARP raises key pipeline issues

In the guest editorial on AARP’s Stance on the Vermont Gas Systems (VGS) pipeline (Oct. 12, 2015), it appears the author did not check in with his Franklin County readers who can’t be pleased to be paying at least $270 million for a gas pipeline to a county with less than 3,000 potential customers over 60 miles away.
As an advocacy organization representing consumers, AARP has steered clear of the thorny environmental and property rights problems this project presents because we have always been squarely focused on the very simple principle of fairness.
• How is it fair for 50,000 current customers to foot the bill for a project that serves no more than few thousand customers in Addison County?
• How is it fair for VGS to have been taking ratepayer dollars over the past several years and using them for this pipeline?
• How is it fair for current ratepayers to absorb another 15-19 percent rate hike over the next 30 years to cover project costs that keep rising?
• How is it fair for a Canadian company to profit from a capital project in Vermont paid for by 50,000 hardworking Vermonters?
These are all questions that our Public Service Board should weigh as they rule on whether to reopen this case and really examine if it provides any public good for the rest of Vermont.
Few people realize what a great deal this is for the utility company. According to VGS itself, the company is entitled to a return of the actual project cost from ratepayers as well as a “return on” that investment over 50 years. Taken together, VGS estimates cost to ratepayers to be at least $270 million.
Our members in Chittenden and Franklin counties have made it very clear that bumping their rates to pay for a Gaz Métro/VGS investment is clearly not in their best interests. VGS itself states that current ratepayers will not receive any economic benefit for 35 years — far longer than most older Vermonters and our members will be alive. Furthermore, with no plan on the table to expand beyond Addison County, how will this 41-mile pipeline benefit anyone else in Vermont?
In short, the utility has overestimated the economic benefits to Vermont and underestimated the economic costs. More troubling is that our Department of Public Service (DPS) seems to be giving the utility a green light at every turn — even when DPS itself estimates a negative impact on the state economy and no price advantage for consumers over other clean alternatives.
Challenging the motives of an organization that has spent decades and countless resources fighting for consumers on utility issues seems uninformed at best, and at worst a weak attempt to obscure simple facts. AARP Vermont does not fundraise ever. We are a mission-driven organization, period. We advocate for older Vermonters who sadly have no voice in the byzantine regulatory process — an important job our Department of Public Service is not getting done.
Greg Marchildon
State Director, AARP Vermont

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