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Story + video: Shumlin promises to bring high-speed rail, natural gas pipeline to Vermont

Fresh from a two-day jaunt to Montreal, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced to the press on Wednesday that he hopes to see the construction of a high speed passenger rail line that links Montreal to New York in the near future. In addition, he is looking to solve the state’s long-term energy needs through an enhanced power agreement with Hydro-Quebec and the extension of a natural gas line from Chittenden County to Rutland.

Shumlin, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and former Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie met with Quebec Premier Jean Charest and officials from Hydro-Quebec and Gaz Métro of Montréal, Qué., which owns Northern New England Energy Corporation, which in turn owns Vermont Gas and Green Mountain Power. Shumlin said he was grateful for Dubie’s willingness to provide introductions to Charest and the other officials. (He also joked about Scott’s expertise on the icy road way en route to Montreal and described it as a demolition derby. Scott is a well-known race car driver at Thunder Road, a local race track).

Shumlin told reporters that the Quebec officials were surprised by his arrival with Dubie, his former campaign rival. Shumlin said they remarked such political amity was unprecedented in Canada.

The visit was something of a trade mission, though it seemed that Vermont was buying and Quebec was selling — power. “Quebec is our biggest trading partner,” Shumlin remarked. “It’s an extraordinarily important friendship.”

Shumlin said he continues to negotiate with Hydro-Quebec for additional power. Vermont has already sealed a 20-year agreement with the power company at a rate of roughly 6 cents a kilowatt hour. Shumlin declined to give specifics about the nature of the talks.

“It’s a buyer’s market,” Shumlin said. “They want to sell us power.”

Shumlin said he couldn’t say how much electricity the state will need until he completes a comprehensive energy plan that’s “credible.” Until his advisors devise a comprehensive plan the state’s energy needs will be a “guessing game.”

“There is a glut of electricity on the market,” Shumlin said. “They want to sell us power … and it’s a buyers’ market.”

When asked whether he was trying to purchase Hydro-Quebec power to find a way to increase power reliability in the aftermath of the likely closure of Vermont Yankee, Shumlin said he is “eager” to see the state expand its natural gas pipeline to Rutland. He said he believes the gas could help drive economic development in that area of the state. He said the project could give a boost to GE Rutland and Omya, the calcium carbonate extraction company in Florence, Vt.

As for high-speed rail, the main sticking point is Homeland Security.

“I think we are learning from the ongoing reaction to 9/11 that we have to see the border as a border between friends,” Shumlin said. “If it means we can’t (renew) passenger rail from Vermont to Montreal then the terrorists are winning.”

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Anne Galloway

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