Top 10, No. 5: Vermont Gas pipeline begins to deliver natural gas locally

After many public meetings, much litigation, thousands of hours of debate and millions of dollars spent, Vermont Gas in March turned on the spigot to its Addison Natural Gas Project pipeline.
Initial recipients included some of the biggest businesses within Middlebury’s industrial park off Exchange Street, including the Agri-Mark/Cabot cheese plant and Vermont Hard Cider. Vermont Gas officials spent considerable time signing up additional commercial and residential users and crews continued to install distribution lines in the more densely populated areas of the community throughout the year.
Ultimately, Vermont Gas wants to funnel Canadian natural gas to more than 4,000 households, businesses and institutions in Middlebury, Bristol, Vergennes, New Haven and perhaps eventually other Addison County communities.
The $165.9 million pipeline extends 41 miles from Colchester into Addison County. The project drew support from some local business people and residents who wanted an energy option that company officials argue is currently cheaper and cleaner than most fossil fuels. But the plan was assailed by many citizens and environmentalists who, among other things, feared the natural gas pipeline might pose safety concerns while potentially stalling the region’s transition to renewable energy alternatives.
Vermont Gas’s customer recruitment efforts in Middlebury hit a snag in the fall.
Local resident Ross Conrad disagreed with the selectboard’s decision to award three free easements to Vermont Gas in order to reach 15 downtown customers, including the Ilsley Library and new municipal building. Conrad argued the company should have to pay for those easements — one behind the town offices and Ilsley Library, one near Mr. Ups Restaurant, and one on Mill Street.
Middlebury selectboard members pointed to a precedent of utilities being given free municipal easements to offer their services. Conrad decided to contest the move, and launched a successful petition drive to force a Nov. 7 referendum on the matter. Roughly 9 percent of the town’s 4,925 registered voters turned out at the polls to affirm the free easements by a 279 to 168 tally.
Meanwhile, a Wellesley, Mass.-based company and the Goodrich Farm in Salisbury late in the year confirmed they were teaming up on a project that would turn on-site cow manure and Addison County food waste into renewable energy that would be piped to Middlebury College.
Vanguard officials said plans called for a Farm Powered-brand anaerobic digester that would, on a daily basis, process 100 tons of manure from the 900-cow Goodrich Farm off Shard Villa Road and 165 tons of organic food waste per day from some of the Middlebury area’s biggest consumers, including Agri-Mark/Cabot. The digester would process the waste and extract from it natural gas that would be fed through a 4-inch-diameter pipe five miles into the Vermont Gas pipeline now being installed in Middlebury.
Middlebury College will buy a portion of the Goodrich gas from Vanguard, and Vermont Gas will purchase the remainder that and sell it as “renewable natural gas” to other customers.
Meanwhile, Bristol officials in 2017 resumed discussions with Vermont Gas on a memorandum of understanding that could lead to some of the more populated parts of town receiving natural gas through the Vermont Gas pipeline. As was the case in other parts of the county, some Bristol residents have expressed a desire for the natural gas option, while others don’t want to see pipeline infrastructure installed in their community.
As the year ended, the state utilities regulator had hired an “independent expert” to check the burial depth of the VGS pipeline between Colchester and Middlebury, part of which is closer to the surface than intended. The expert will look at a half-mile section where the pipeline’s depth doesn’t comply with the state permit. The analysis will also check the pipeline’s depth at stream crossings.

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