Vermont Gas gives timetable for local service in Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — Vermont Gas Systems officials on Tuesday unveiled plans and a timetable to install distribution piping within Middlebury’s core village area, infrastructure that they said should be ready to funnel natural gas to customers by the end of this calendar year.
The informational meeting drew around 40 area residents to the new Middlebury municipal building to hear about Vermont Gas’s construction plans. Some attendees were eager to tap into natural gas, which company officials have promoted as a more cost-effective and cleaner-burning fuel than oil. But others voiced concerns about the prospect of excavation within their neighborhoods for piping that would bring “fracked” gas from Canada to the community.
The Addison Natural Gas Project, a pipeline that will extend from Colchester to Middlebury and Vergennes, has drawn considerable controversy since it was proposed a few years ago. A member of Rising Tide Vermont climbed and sat in a tree in Monkton early this week in an effort to prevent pipeline progress.
Presenting the Vermont Gas’s Middlebury plans on Tuesday were Tom Murray, director of sales and marketing; Tim Vachereau, construction manager; Brian Gray, sales, marketing and efficiency manager; and Beth Parent, communications manager.
To date, Vermont Gas has installed a total of 27,000 feet of piping in various neighborhoods in Middlebury, according to Vachereau. Plans call for a combined total of 55 miles of pipe to be laid underground in Middlebury and Vergennes before the end of this year, officials said. That pipe will be laid through three construction methods, depending on the logistics of the terrain: horizontal drilling, pneumatic drilling or open trenching, Vachereau explained.
The distribution pipe — ranging in diameter from 6 inches to three-quarters of an inch — will bring the gas into customers’ homes, officials said. Gray said the company will pay the costs for first 200 feet of piping from the line to reach a customer’s home. Anything beyond that will be the responsibility of the customer, based on a formula that calculates the customer’s potential rate of use of natural gas, according to Gray.
Laying of local distribution piping is due to be finished in December (See details in the blue box above). Gray stressed that completion date could be pushed out for a variety of reasons, including weather and potential technical difficulties.
Vermont Gas officials said they hope to attract 2,000 customers in Middlebury and another 1,000 in Vergennes. But of course it’s up to business owners and homeowners to determine whether they want to become customers. Gray said property owners within the service area can choose to receive natural gas at any time, without financial penalty.
For those who want to partake, Vermont Gas will offer rentals (at $23 per month) of “conversion burners” that can be installed in “fairly new” oil burning systems to allow them to burn natural gas, according to Gray.
Customers can buy their own conversion burners for around $1,500, according to Gray. He promoted renting because, he said, the payback on a converter burner investment could be fairly lengthy — especially since the cost of fuel oil is currently on par with natural gas prices.
Those who want to invest in a high efficiency furnace for natural gas fuel are looking at around $4,000, and as much as $8,000 for a boiler, according to Gray, who said Vermont Gas offers financing and rebates for such investments.
Addison County customers will also be able to access Vermont Gas’s efficiency program to reduce energy costs further and use less energy, according to Parent.
Vermont Gas, according to Gray, has already partnered with some local contractors to service and maintain natural gas burning systems. Gray said customers can hire Vermont Gas to do their burner conversions, or hire out the work to a their local plumbing and heating contractor.
Parent said Vermont Gas will hold additional meetings in the future to explain the project and sign up new customers.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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