Public Service Dept. backs Shumlin on support for VTGas pipeline

Opponents of the pipeline project raise a banner Wednesday, Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

Opponents of a natural gas pipeline project raise a banner Tuesday at a hearing in Middlebury. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

Gov. Peter Shumlin this week reaffirmed his support of a natural gas pipeline into the heart of Addison County. His Public Service Department, which is charged with representing Vermonters in utility proceedings, is behind the governor and offering a few proposals of its own.

Shumlin’s comments came the day after hundreds of pipeline opponents took Vermont Gas Systems (VTGas) to task Tuesday for its proposed $86.6 million pipeline extension project, which if permitted would comprised of 41.2 miles of transmission line and 5.1 miles of local distribution lines. The project’s benefits, say Shumlin and Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia, outweigh its costs.

The governor says natural gas is a better priced and “cleaner, greener” alternative to fuel oil and propane.

“I don’t think you’ll find a governor in the country who is more sympathetic to the argument that if we can turn off the switch tomorrow, never burn any more fossil fuels or coal, I’d be the first to sign up. Obviously, that’s not possible,” Shumlin said.

Pipeline opponents jammed a Public Service Board hearing in Middlebury on Tuesday to voice their concerns over the use of fracking technology to obtain the natural gas that will be delivered through the pipeline, among other things.

Leading up to the Public Service Board’s technical hearings in Montpelier next week, the Department of Public Service submitted a range of testimony on economic and environmental benefits associated with the project.

Under Shumlin, the department has often aligned itself with environmental groups, such as the Conservation Law Foundation and the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. But, in this case, the department is at odds with those organizations, both of which oppose VTGas’ southern expansion.

The Conservation Law Foundation provided an analysis to the Public Service Board earlier this year that showed how the natural gas line would increase greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont. VTGas provided expert analysis that found CLF’s analysis was inaccurate, and said the project would reduce greenhouse gases.

Public Service Department analyst Walter Poor wrote that both of these analyses had their shortcomings.

“Neither one of these studies represents a full life-cycle greenhouse gas analysis of the Project,” he said. “Moreover, the studies are constructed differently — relying on different assumptions and comparing different scenarios.”

He found that CLF’s expert witness compared the life cycle of gas to only a portion of the life cycles of other fuels and placed “an undue bias against the Project.” Poor also found that VTGas’s witness did not estimate the emissions estimates of the actual project and did not include propane in his analysis.

“The two analyses each incorporate portions of a full life-cycle analysis, but neither presents the full picture,” he wrote.

Poor indicated that he did not have the expertise or resources to perform a complete life-cycle analysis on his own, but he used CLF’s model to run an analysis that accounted for a range of greenhouse gas scenarios. He found that within that range, the natural gas pipeline would reduce emissions if it replaced fuel oil and propane burners.

“The Project provides significant net benefits to Vermont, even before the economic impacts of greenhouse gas emissions are quantified,” he wrote.

In addition to Poor’s environmental work, the department’s economic analysis concluded that the project would provide economic benefits to Vermont, even if liquefied or compressed natural gas were delivered to industrial users via other means.

Chris Recchia, commissioner of the Department of Public Service. State of Vermont photo

Chris Recchia, commissioner of the Department of Public Service. State of Vermont photo

Recchia said that while the department supports the concept of the pipeline extension, it wants the company to add to its proposal. Recchia wants VTGas to fund efficiency upgrades that the state has been struggling to finance for Vermonters, and he wants every community that the transmission line passes through to have an opportunity to draw from it.

“We want a connection put in at least each community through which the pipeline goes, as a means of ensuring that if the demand is there, that they could provide service to those towns without having to redo the pipeline,” he said.

Recchia also wants the natural gas infrastructure to be designed so that it can double as a network for transporting methane from biodigesters on Addison County farms to furnaces in homes and businesses for heating.

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Comments

  1. Sandra Bettis :

    boo to shumlin and the psb – they might want to do a little more research.

    • Dave Stevens :

      Hey Sandra, If you read the entire article, the conservation Law Foundation’s witness “placed an undue bias against the project”. It was both sides that missed the mark. The left got it wrong, and the far left (the CLF) also got it wrong.

      • Matt Fisken :

        Just to be clear, a single person, Walter Poor who works for the DPS/PSD said “an undue bias against the Project.”

        This is one of those instances where it would be interesting to know EXACTLY what the rest of that quote was (with all due respect for Andrew Stein’s reporting).

        I think it is unwise to assume that Mr. Poor nor any of the folks who work at DPS do not have some kind of bias as well, based on the positions the Department has already taken, specifically regarding natural gas, in the CEP. No one wants to be the black sheep and risk losing their job.

        Is there a public report from DPS regarding the two studies?

        • Andrew Stein :

          Matt,

          Here is a link to Poor’s testimony: http://psb.vermont.gov/sites/psb/files/docket/7970addison/DPS/DPS%20-%20Rebuttal%20Testimony%20of%20TJ%20Poor%20-%2008-14-13.pdf. For other testimony you’re interested in reading, there is a link in the sidebar up above that will take you to all of the prefiled testimony.

          Best,
          Andrew

          • Matt Fisken :

            Great, that helps a lot.

            Thank you!

          • Annette Smith :

            The link takes you to some of the prefiled testimony. The hearing starts today. Note that it still says the surrebuttal testimony will be posted. Late Friday, parties got an MOU between GMP and ANR that contained references to attachments that were not attached, and references to locations along the route that would require consulting about 1000 pages of already-filed testimony to make sense of. Imagine you are a party to this case, and have to be prepared to ask cogent questions this week, yet the Shumlin administration’s game of “let’s make a deal” leaves you with only part of the information needed to fully participate.

            August 23 was the deadline for parties to file issues to be testified to in “live” surrebuttal testimony. The ANR/GMP MOU comes in under VGS’ surrebuttal testimony.

            Parties to the Sheffield and Lowell wind cases experienced the same thing, with ANR and the developer coming in very late in the game with an MOU. In the case of the Lowell wind project, it was mostly “in concept” with the details to come later, which made it impossible for parties to flesh out the details during the technical hearings.

    • walter judge :

      Or, you might just want to rethink your opinion.

      • Townsend Peters :

        Or there is no proper life cycle cost analysis before the PSB and it must deny.

        • Walter Judge :

          Is there a rule or law that says the PSB M-U-S-T deny a project just because its life cycle cost analysis has “shortcomings” in the view of one DPS analyst?

  2. The pipeline is not going through his garden or near his house or organic farm. Last I knew the Governor does not own the private property of others. Neither does the government. This is not Canada. New York said No. Testimony refused to be heard or mocked. The fracking gas it will demand illegal. Oh, and did I say, the route proposed by Canadian owned Vermont Gaz is on Vermonters private property?

  3. Rolf Mueller :

    “He(Walter Poor)found that within that range, the natural gas pipeline would reduce emissions if it replaced fuel oil and propane burners.”
    Aha, if it replaced the burners.
    How much emissions are created replacing the burners?
    And what is the cost replacing them?
    And how long will the price of natural gas be low?
    I bet once everyone changed their burners to natural gas the price will go up.

    • Sandra Bettis :

      the problem is the way that they get the natural gas – look up ‘fracking’.

    • Moshe Braner :

      Yup, currently natural gas is sold for about one half of the cost of “production” via fracking. The price therefore is guaranteed to at least double, in the next few years, once the financial bubble (flipping frack leases) pops. Note that the price of natural gas in other continents (Europe, SE Asia) is 3 to 5 times as high as here – and as soon as they build the terminals to export it from this continent that’s who we’ll be bidding against.

      Also note that when the price of natural gas will increase, so will the price of electricity. The best way to invest the millions of dollars in question is in insulation.

      • Moshe,

        The EIA has significant access to production data and cost, much more than you and I. Therefore it is best to consult its annual reports, instead of taking numbers from somewhat dubious sources that may have other motives.

        NG prices are not artificially low. There is an abundance of gas, because of new drilling methods invented in the US.

        NG prices will rise at most at the rate of inflation, according to a recent EIA report.

        EIA World Energy Projections 2013
        http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/ieo/more_highlights.cfm

  4. Walter Judge :

    Ms. Gerdt, do you use electricity? Have you ever driven a car on a road? Have you ever taken a railroad? Do you use water? Cable? Telephone? All those utilities and services run through private property that was taken legally under the U.S. constitution. Your “private property” argument against the pipeline is irrelevant. Go back and check your 9th grade civics book.

    And where do you get that fracked gas is “illegal”? Under what law is it illegal?

    • Mr. Judge, I use power and have the agreement in my deed. Rural electrification. We get power. In the case of Canadian owned Vermont gaz, they want property owners to host the route Canadians chose to be transmission lines. Landowners could not simply hook up. The goal of Vermont gaz is to get Gaz to the paper mill in NY.NY said no. Our local selectman sold out certain landowners to keep it out of their yards. Vermonters voted against fracked gas. Another futile effort by the little people.

      • walter judge :

        Vermonters never voted against fracked gas. I asked you to identify the bill. You haven’t.

  5. Kathy Nelson :

    Mr. Stein writes, “Gov. Peter Shumlin this week reaffirmed his support of a natural gas pipeline into the heart of Addison County. His Public Service Department, which is charged with representing Vermonters in utility proceedings, is behind the governor and offering a few proposals of its own”

    I believe the key words here are “His Public Service Department”. Not, THE Public Service Department, the champions of public concerns over corporate and political interests, but the enthusiastic supporters of an elitist governor and his corporate cronies. Let’s rename this group of overpaid state employees The Governor’s Corporate Service Department (GCSD). Shumlin put Chris Recchia in charge of the GCSD because he was such a failure over at the ANR but was good at doing the master’s bidding.

    I read the Digger article and looked at the photos of the people who attended the Public Service Board’s hearing on the fracked gas pipeline in Middlebury. It was heartbreaking to look at and read about the arrogant indifference shown to these people by the PSB members. The PSB is more widely known already as the Corporate Service Board(CSB).

    The people of the Northeast Kingdom already know what it means to be trashed by these three appointees of various governors. We had our hearing too, with a hundred attending from our small towns, to demand to be heard about the opposition to industrial wind on the ridgelines. Chairman Volz was the only CSB member to show and he didn’t really have the right to be there considering he had to remove himself from the CSB chair position last time the Northeast Kingdom was attacked by a wind developer. Why did he have to remove himself? Because he was accused of bias while he was working for the Public Service Department(GCSD). Even the PSD/GCSD)endorsed his removal from the chairman’s seat for that docket (#7037).

    The history of abuses heaped on the VT public by skewed rules, laws and statutes is revealing and that’s where some real changes need to be made. We the people are being throttled by Dillon’s Rule (which denies municipal rule), and Acts 248 and 246 which allows political and corporate greed to override the health and safety of the people of Vermont. I hope that people who might read my comment will begin to explore the ways available to start exercising their right to protect their communities from corrupt government and corporate harm.

  6. Matt Fisken :

    I’m affraid Mr. Poor’s testimony muddies the water.

    He states:
    “[N]either one of these studies [conducted by Dr. Stanton on behalf of CLF and ... by Mr. Bluestein on behalf of VGS] represents a full lifecycle greenhouse gas analysis of the Project.”

    after stating:
    “I have neither the resources nor the independent expertise to conduct a full lifecycle greenhouse gas analysis of the Project from the ground up. Therefore, I am relying on the greenhouse gas analyses conducted by VGS and CLF to set the parameters for the reasonable range of greenhouse gas emissions that should be associated with the Project.”

    It seems like a fragile position to make that:

    1. study A and B are not thorough enough.

    2. one doesn’t have the resources or expertise to generate a thorough study.

    3. one does have the resources and expertise to decide what was incorrectly assumed and characterized in study A and B while drawing on both to create a more comprehensive analysis.

    I think it is worth reitterating part of Mr. Poor’s testimony, which undermines any position that the methane leakages can be ignored: “estimates of methane leakages and other upstream emissions are uncertain.”

    It is strange that the PSB would NOT ask Mr. Poor, who helped draft the Comprehensive Energy Plan, to answer the same question they asked Ms. Stanton at the conclusion of her testimony:

    “What, if any, impact will the [ANGP] have on obtaining our 2050 goal [of having 90 percent of Vermont's energy come from renewable sources]?”

    If they had, I expect he would have answered similarly to what is written on page 11 of the CEP (http://publicservice.vermont.gov/sites/psd/files/Pubs_Plans_Reports/State_Plans/Comp_Energy_Plan/2011/2011%20CEP_Volume%201%5B1%5D.pdf) that:

    “Although environmental concerns regarding hydrofracture extraction and methane release are significant … Vermont should choose to expand natural gas within its existing transmission territory and beyond.”

    how do you say, “fait accompli”?

  7. walter judge :

    Your bad attitude towards the Public Service Board is totally unwarranted. It’s blaming the ump when you lose. The PSB consists of decent, honest people who are just doing their jobs. They apply the policies and rules that YOUR elected legislators have given them, to the facts at hand.

    • Kathy Nelson :

      Mr. Judge, you are wrong to deny that the Public Service Board is blameless and innocent. They awarded Eolian Renewable Energy, wind developer marauders currently assaulting Brighton, Newark and Ferdinand, a permit for MET towers even after that bunch of nits failed three times to notify adjoining landowners of the project so that those people could have their chance to intervene. The permit was held up for fourteen months as one foul-up after another was revealed, by the public, and the failings of the PSB hearing officer came to light. The PSB could have easily, and legally, refused Eolian the permit for failing to comply with the requirements the first time. Instead they allowed Eolian to “correct” its mistakes again and again while deliberately ignoring the fact that this developer was grossly incompetent.(Two other states, NH and Maine, booted this same developer out of their towns.)
      Many members of the public were denied the right to intervene and our town plans and zoning laws were spit on by the PSB. They, the Board and its staff, have treated us will callous disregard and total disrespect. They are not innocent and neither is our narcissistic governor, the stacked deck over at the PSD or the oblivious and corrupt crew led by Tony Klein.
      We do need to change the law and that will happen. Hopefully, in 2014, we can take the most important step by cleaning out certain dirty offices in Montpeiler

      • Dave Stevens :

        Yeah Kathy, take a breath. Walter is correct, Your hostilities toward the PSB are unwarranted. Just because you disagree with their decisions doesn’t mean the process is broken.

        • Annette Smith :

          Do you have direct experience with the PSB that causes you to say that? The PSB process requires three rounds of pre-filed testimony, three rounds of discovery, lawyers and expert witnesses. There is a strong record in the last 7 years of so of the PSB routinely ignoring all witnesses except those presented by the applicant.

          The PSB and their defenders like to claim that people who complain about the PSB are just expressing “sour grapes” because they did not win. That is not the case. The record is clear in too many instances.

          This is playing out in the case of noise with wind projects. The PSB relied entirely on the testimony of Ken Kaliski in the Lowell decision, despite two credible noise experts and a doctor who all told the Board they were setting the standard too high, and at a level where harm to public health is known to be caused.

          At the recent hearing about GMP’s noise violations, it was evident that the Board is now questioning whether Kaliski’s work is to be relied on. Board Member Burke raised the issue of a substation where Kaliski assured the Board the noise would not be an issue, and post-construction, the Board had to return and found the noise loud enough that VELCO has had to buy out one neighboring home, and is supposedly making some sort of settlement with another neighbor. Board Member Coen asked Kaliski, “have you ever seen a wind project you didn’t like?” Too little, too late for the neighbors of these wind projects whose lives are being seriously harmed.

          That is just one issue in a long list of issues where the Board ignored all testimony except that presented by the developer. The PSB has earned the criticism.

  8. Walter Judge :

    Whatever you say.

  9. Sandra Bettis :

    vermonters did vote against fracked gas – but the state uses td bank to invest their money (td bank supports fracked gas) and now the psb supports fracked gas – it doesn’t seem to matter how we vote….

  10. Angela Bennett :

    YES! It does matter how you vote! I’m not exactly a new Vermonter; my family has very deep roots here in Addison County. However, I have not voted in Vermont. Yet.

    I WILL BE voting AGAINST Shumlin during the next election! And, I will be helping to campaign against him.

    • Sandra Bettis :

      well, i’m pretty sure that whoever runs against shumlin will be an even worse prospect….

  11. Sandra Bettis :
  12. Sandra Bettis :
  13. Walter Judge :

    “Are you from aroung here Mr. Judge? http://vtdigger.org/2012/05/04/vermont-first-state-in-nation-to-ban-fracking-for-oil-and-gas/ Thanks to Vermont digger and google I found the link in just under 1 second. – See more at: http://vtdigger.org/2013/09/13/public-service-dept-backs-shumlin-on-support-for-vtgas-pipeline/#comment-69755

    Ms. Gerdt, you sarcastically ask if “I am from around here.” Yes, of course I know about this bill. But please see my response to Ms. Bettis at 7:54 am when she cited the same bill. Have you bothered to actually read the bill? This bill banned the act of fracking in Vermont. It did not ban fracked gas.

    I hope you and Ms. Bettis are not correcting students’ SAT exams.

  14. Matt Fisken :

    Of course the continued importation of fracked gas into Vermont will not be reduced through legislative or regulator action. The question is, between the CEP and the fracking ban, does Vermont become a gigantic hypocrite by increasing the flow of this non-renewable fossil fuel that is destroying groundwater elsewhere so that a few thousand Vermonters are provided ANOTHER choice to heat their homes, cook their food and dry their clothes?

    Mr. Judge, your firm’s history of representing VTGas/GasMetro/GMP makes it hard to take your comments on this subject seriously.

  15. Walter Judge :

    “Mr. Judge, your firm’s history of representing VTGas/GasMetro/GMP makes it hard to take your comments on this subject seriously.”

    Ah. You can’t take comments seriously from anyone who has some interest in the process? If that is the case, then by definition you also cannot take seriously the alleged environmental concerns of people whose property is affected by the pipeline.

    – See more at: http://vtdigger.org/2013/09/13/public-service-dept-backs-shumlin-on-support-for-vtgas-pipeline/#sthash.aHRDSwwF.dpuf

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