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.

Andrew Stein

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