Opinion: Pipeline finances not adding up

As a concerned Middlebury resident I am trying hard to understand the issues around the Addison Natural Gas Pipeline. Does the push to build a pipeline for natural gas south to Middlebury really serve the best interests of everyone in our region? Ratepayers in Chittenden and Franklin counties are being asked to pay for this expensive pipeline over the next 32 years! I contend that more careful and complete calculations of the supposed benefits are needed.
In the past three years I have attended nearly all of the Public Service Board hearings on this matter, and I believe something is wrong in the decision making process.
It is now well known that Vermont Gas Systems seriously underestimated the cost of building the pipeline to Middlebury and the company has been called to account. But, what about comparing the overall cost savings for various available fuels? The public is being told that, even though the pipeline cost rose to $153.6 million, there will still be overall savings for the new customers in Addison County. What is the basis for such a claim? As I listened to the testimony at the hearing on Dec. 1, I realized that I was not getting a satisfactory answer.
At that hearing I heard that the Department of Pubic Service (DPS) is using cost estimates based on what fuel costs were six months to three years ago. When prices for various fuels are changing almost weekly, surely that is not satisfactory. Comparisons need to be made based on accurate and current information. I noted another problem: In its calculations the DPS is ignoring the fact that compressed natural gas is now available and being used by many of the largest industrial/commercial customers in Middlebury who were previously targeted to receive the highest benefit from access to natural gas. They have this without an expensive pipeline. Leaving this information out of the calculations of potential cost/savings makes the result inaccurate.
Besides these matters, it seems to me that any cost estimates should include consideration of the savings potential that results from better insulation and the use of solar panels and heat pumps.
For these reasons I have serious doubts about the benefits that are supposed to come from the large investment in fossil fuel infrastructure that this pipeline would be. Not only is the economic sense of the pipeline project seriously questionable, in this time when Vermont has set a goal to derive 90 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2050, the picture is becoming clearer that this is the wrong investment for our future. The citizens of Vermont, and especially the ratepayers in Chittenden and Franklin counties, deserve better consideration.
The Rev. George Klohck

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