PSB approves Phase 1 of Vermont Gas pipeline

The Public Service Board on Monday approved Vermont Gas Systems’ proposal to build a 43-mile, $86.6 million natural gas pipeline that would connect Colchester to Addison County.

The board granted Vermont Gas a certificate of public good in a 157-page order Monday.

“The evidence presented in this Docket has convinced us that the proposed Project can be constructed, with the alterations required by this Order, without undue adverse impacts on Vermont’s natural and built environment and without presenting a risk to Vermonters’ health and safety,” the board wrote in its decision.

Vermont Gas applied for a permit for the Addison Natural Gas Project last December seeking to expand its service south along the western side of the state. The project is one in a three-part plan to bring natural gas service to Rutland.

Vermont Gas also has applied to the PSB for the second phase of the pipeline expansion, which would connect Middlebury to the International Paper mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y. The second phase of the expansion would move the utility closer to completing its final proposed extension to service Rutland, Vermont Gas officials have said.

During an unrelated news conference Monday, Gov. Peter Shumlin restated his support for the pipeline expansion.

“As you know, I am a big supporter of the pipeline along the western side of the state. I think that getting gas – natural gas, the same natural gas that Chittenden County and Franklin County now enjoy – to the western side of the state with a jobs challenge is going to a be a huge economic driver,” Shumlin said.

The permit for the second phase of the project is still pending before the board and there is no current application for the third phase.

“We are very pleased the Vermont Public Service Board’s thorough review of the project has found it to be in the public interest,” Don Gilbert, president and CEO of Vermont Gas, said in a statement. “This decision will make it possible to extend the same economic and environmental benefits of natural gas service to more Vermonters in Addison County. We look forward to helping more Vermonters to cut their heating bills in half and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, as we have in Chittenden and Franklin counties for almost 50 years.”

The pipeline project has gotten mixed reviews in Addison County, but has the support of the area’s lawmakers and several towns along the proposed route.

Vergennes recently voted to support the pipeline during a municipal referendum in December. A group of landowners in Monkton have criticized the project and Vermont Gas’ process of obtaining property easements.

Opponents of the project say some of the gas that will pass through the pipeline is derived by the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and is harmful to the environment.

“We are disappointed,” said Ben Walsh of VPIRG. “This (project) is not in the public interest. We’re opposing construction of the pipeline due to clear evidence that the climate and other impacts of increasing Vermont’s use of fracked gas and of building fossil fuel infrastructure designed for long-term use are by any rational measure unacceptable.”

Walsh rejected the argument that burning natural gas is cleaner than burning fuel oil and therefore the lesser of two evils.

“We need to move to renewables and efficiency and not trading one bad fossil fuel for another bad fossil fuel, he said.

VTDigger assignment editor Tom Brown contributed to this report.

John Herrick

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