Dozens protest gas pipeline at Public Service Board’s office

Pipeline opponents

Pipeline opponents gathered in the hall outside the Public Service Board hearing room in Montpelier on Wednesday to oppose the Vermont Gas pipeline through Addison County. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Residents from across the state traveled to Montpelier on Wednesday to ask the Public Service Board to revoke Vermont Gas’ state permit to continue construction of a natural gas pipeline through Addison County.

About three dozen pipeline protesters crowded the hall and filled the hearing room at the Public Service Board’s offices, carrying posters and wearing T-shirts expressing their opposition to the project.

“If this pipeline goes, it passes through our neighbors’ yards,” said Patricia Heather-Lea of Bristol, who opposed the pipeline. “My heart also goes out to the source of where the fracked gas comes from.”

The Public Service Board approved Vermont Gas’ 41-mile pipeline extension from Colchester south to Middlebury on Dec. 23, 2013. But since then, much has changed. The cost to build the project has swelled 77 percent from $86.6 million to $153.6 million.

The Vermont Public Service Board will now consider whether the project should go forward. Following a 40.5 percent cost increase on July 1, regulators let Vermont Gas move ahead with the pipeline. The company then announced another 26.2 percent cost increase on Dec. 19. Regulators will decide whether the project is a good deal for ratepayers this summer, possibly as early as June.

The company says the benefits of the project outweigh the costs. But environmental groups say cost-competitive alternatives like heat pumps have since come on the market. And consumer advocates say the project will increase heating bills too much.

Vermont Gas Systems says the project will deliver natural gas to between 3,000 and 4,000 new customers in Addison County. If all of those customers switch from fuel oil to natural gas, they will save about $174 million on energy costs over the next 20 years, the company says. Vermont Gas also estimates the pipeline will create an additional $48 million in short-term construction wages, $4 million in state tax revenue, and the equivalent of $27 million worth of greenhouse gas reductions (environmental groups question whether the greenhouse gas estimate fully accounts for methane emissions).

Pipeline opponents say the cost of the project to current customers in Chittenden and Franklin counties is too high.

Jim Dumont

Jim Dumont, an attorney from Bristol representing AARP, discussed the hearing schedule for the remand on the Vermont Gas pipeline at the Public Service Board hearing room in Montpelier on Wednesday. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Jim Dumont, an attorney from Bristol representing AARP. “The economics were bad to begin with and now they are really bad.”

The company says the additional project costs would lead to a 10.2 percent increase in gas prices for current customers as soon as November. It will take at least 30 years for Addison County customers to begin paying back current customers in Chittenden and Frankiln counties, according to regulators.

Existing ratepayers will receive some benefits, including enhanced service reliability, greenhouse gas reductions and economies of scale, according to the Public Service Board. The company does not have an estimate for the financial benefits to current customers.

Avery Pittman of the Old North End in Burlington, a member of the anti-pipeline group Rising Tide Vermont and a Vermont Gas customer, says the projected increase would be burdensome for ratepayers.

“Me and most of my neighbors, we live in old houses that are not insulated. We’re renting,” Pittman said. “And facing a 15 to 20 percent rate increase is just not doable for most of us. We don’t have a say right now in whether or not we’re going to be paying for that.”

The company has not yet finalized the rate impacts of the project.

“We’ve made no rate proposal. And we are going to remain committed to keeping our prices affordable and competitive,” said Beth Parent, a spokeswoman for Vermont Gas.

The company will continue building the pipeline despite the possibility that regulators could amend or revoke the permit. Vermont Gas asked the Public Service Board to make a decision on the remand by early June.

“We’re hopeful that it can be concluded as soon as possible,” Parent said.

Some environmentalists say alternative heating sources have emerged since the project was approved in 2013. Heather-Lea said she uses oil and wood to heat her home, but said residents should use heat pumps powered by solar panels, for example, rather than natural gas.

“I believe we can keep ourselves warm using other ways that are locally generated,” she said.

Parent said natural gas gives customers a choice.

The company wants to help create a cleaner energy sector that is heavily reliant on renewables. “Natural gas is still a very competitive, reliable and an important choice for families.”

John Herrick

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  • Willem Post

    Using Japanese, ductless heat pumps for energy hog houses to replace fuel oil would likely not be economical.

    A house with an open floor plan would need at least 2 ductless heat pumps at an installed cost of about $7000-$8000.

    A house without an open floor plan likely would need more than 2 ductless heat pumps.

    The capital cost of heat pump systems that use the ground as a heat source would be at least $30,000, more if the house is an energy hog house.

    The ductless heat pumps would replace at most about 75% of the fuel oil consumption.

  • Howard Shaffer

    Heat pumps run on what? Electric power last I knew. It can come from the sun, wind and a variety of other sources. Right now, gas makes 44% of the electric power in New England per ISO. In cold weather homes get gas first, and some gas electric power gets replaced by oil!!

    Opposing the gas pipeline means you are voting for oil!

    Yes I know energy efficient homes and buildings are best, but it takes time, as Energy Efficiency Vermont has proven.

    We need to think about and agree on the transition. Just saying “make energy hog homes efficient” doesn’t magically make every home that way instantly.

    • Willem Post

      Howard,

      It is a sad state of affairs Vermont has been saddled with due to legislators not voting for a statewide, enforced energy code that requires near-zero energy houses.

      Such houses are very easy to build using blueboard and tape and spray foam, efficient doors, windows, appliances and lighting fixtures.

      Has such code existed, may thousands of houses would have been built to that code, and adding ductless heat pumps and roof-mounted PV solar systems would have been a no brainier.

      As it is, about 90% of Vermont houses can be classified as energy hog.

      • Willem Post

        Sorry about the typos. My iPad seems to have a mind of its own.

    • Jane Palmer

      I think your statement ‘Opposing the gas pipeline means you are voting for oil! ” is polarizing and shows that you are missing the point.
      I oppose this pipeline because it is a step in exactly the wrong direction if we are to get off of burning fossil fuels. Research shows that the leaks in the extraction, transportation and distribution of methane make “natural” gas as bad as or worse than oil or coal as far as greenhouse gas release. If it is no better than oil, why should we invest in this insanely expensive pipeline if it is not taking us anywhere we need to be? I would also oppose an oil pipeline. We need to invest our dollars in sustainable power. Not more fossil fuel.

      • John Baker

        “Research shows that the leaks in the extraction, transportation and distribution of methane make “natural” gas as bad as or worse than oil or coal as far as greenhouse gas release.”

        I’m sure you can find some research which shows that (or anything else for that matter.) However, the scientific consensus is that natural gas has lower life cycle GHG emissions than coal. Additionally, methane leakage has been declining which lowers the value even further.

        Like it or not, fossil fuels are going to be part of the mix for the foreseeable future.

        • Willem Post

          John,
          Most people cannot see beyond the latest press release.

          Fossil fuels are THE fuel of choice for less developed countries for at least 100 years.

          They SAY they would like to reduce fossil fuel consumption, but what they do, and plan to do, is much more important.

  • Jennifer Baker

    Almost half the gas to be delivered (and therefore half of any theoretical savings) in Phase 1 goes to just three large customers: Agrimark, UTC Aerospace and Middlebury College. In contrast, the existing ratepayer base footing the bill is 2/3 residential and small business. This is a redistribution of wealth upwards, pure and simple. These three large customers could easily be fitted out at a tiny fraction of the cost of this pipeline to receive CNG by truck, as is currently being done elsewhere in Vermont. Of course, the sight of trucks making regular fossil fuels deliveries to Middlebury College wouldn’t really fit their “carbon neutral” image very well. Much better to bury the evidence.

  • Chris Robinson

    I want the benefits of natural gas at my home. If the individuals who have reaped the benefit of natural gas for the past decades have such an issue, perhaps they could cut their ties with VT Gas and convert back to oil.

    • Jane Palmer

      Ms/Mr Robinson,
      I would like to ask you what exactly you think the “benefits” of “natural” gas will be for you?
      If it’s cleaner burn, you need to read up on the latest studies that show methane is a worse greenhouse gas than oil or coal. Here is one: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140514165251.htm
      If you think the benefit will be less cost, you need to find out what your conversion will actually cost. (Call our plumbing and heating contractor and describe your current system) It is not just the flipping of a switch or the change out of a nozzle. The homeowner would also have to have their oil tank removed and this can cost up to $2500. You would also need to wait to hear exactly how much VGS’ rates will go up in order to pay for this very expensive pipeline project because RATEPAYERS are the ones who will foot the bill.
      So..if it turns out it ends up costing you more money, and it is not cleaner, what then would be your reason for switching?

      • John Baker

        Newsflash Ms. Palmer, coal and oil aren’t greenhouse gases.

        Here’s a rebuttal to the study you reference (I just knew it was going to Howarth),

        http://www.geo.cornell.edu/eas/PeoplePlaces/Faculty/cathles/Natural%20Gas/2012%20Cathles%20et%20al%20Commentary%20on%20Howarth.pdf

        Here’s an overview of several studies which shows how your link (Howarth) compares to several others.

        http://www.wri.org/sites/default/files/clearing_the_air_full_version.pdf

        And another meta-analysis,

        http://www.pnas.org/content/111/31/E3167.full

        • Jane Palmer

          Forgive me, I mis -typed. I meant to type the greenhouse gas caused by burning oil or coal. I think it was a logical omission but I apologize and hope I did not confuse anyone.
          I wanted to print this quote from an article from a Columbus Ohio article on a recent gas explosion in the Columbus area. This demonstrates how badly methane leakage is documented and how the “estimates” will be high or low depending on what side of the argument the writer happens to be on.
          From the Columbus Dispatch:
          Matthew Schilling, spokesman for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, said gas utilities in the state conduct routine gas-leak surveys but are not required to report where in the state they find substantial leaks. Instead, companies report how much gas is leaking statewide, Schilling said.

          “Columbia Gas reported 4,774 leaks statewide in 2013, the most-recent year available, the database shows. That was 58 percent of the total leaks in the state. However, Columbia reported that no gas was unaccounted for because of the leaks. Other utilities reported that up to 6 percent of their gas in the system was lost because of leaks”

          So…who should we believe? Those that stand to gain by minimizing leakage? Or our scientific community?

          • John Baker

            If you had bothered to review the links I posted, you would have found that they are from the “scientific community.”

            Pardon me ma’am but your bias is showing.

      • Glenn Thompson

        Jane Palmer,

        “If you think the benefit will be less cost, you need to find out what your conversion will actually cost. (Call our plumbing and heating contractor and describe your current system) It is not just the flipping of a switch or the change out of a nozzle. The homeowner would also have to have their oil tank removed and this can cost up to $2500.”

        True, converting a furnace from a fuel oil burner to a NG burner is more than changing out the nozzle. However, one can still use the existing baseboard system if the existing system is oil/hot water. I would assume the same scenario applies to oil/hot air?

        If one is thinking about switching to a heat pump source, Mitsubishi recommends a ‘ductless heat pump’. If an owner makes that choice, then not only does the owner spend $2500 removing the oil tank, but spends considerably more removing the existing baseboard system or floor ductwork within the house.

        http://www.mitsubishicomfort.com/articles/energy-efficiency/heat-pumps-vs-baseboard-heat-two-very-different-ductless-options

        Bottom line, if one owns a home designed for a specific heating system, it makes little sense from an economic standpoint to gut the existing system and put in something entirely different!

        It is possible to install a ductless heat pump system and integrate it with the existing fossil fuel or electric baseboard system. But why would anyone do that?

        Personally, I wouldn’t convert from Oil to NG unless an existing furnace needs replacing…then I would base my decision on which source to use from an economic standpoint!

        • Moshe Braner

          I added a heat pump a couple of years ago, and left the existing heating systems intact (propane-fueled boiler and baseboard radiators, and wood stove). There is no reason to remove anything, and having options is good. In mild weather (above about 20 degrees) the heat pump is the obvious choice, running cost is about 1/3 that of propane.

          And in the summer the heat pump is also an air conditioner – with about twice the efficiency of an Energy Star window unit. Be sure to get a good model heat pump, there are some cheap ones but they are less efficient. I chose Fujitsu, other good brands are Mitsubishi and Panasonic/Sanyo.

          • Glenn Thompson

            Moshe,

            That works as long as all your current systems are in operating condition? It may become an issue if you decide to sell your home with items that are no longer operable!

            If I was to design and build a home in Vermont now, I’d concentrate on max insulation. I’d avoid using an oil furnace, window or portable AC, or anything that burns wood include pellet stoves. I’d probably integrate a high quality heat pump with a NG furnace (if NG is available).

            One of the major issues with Heat Pumps, they are not exactly reliable nor cheap to fix. Mitsubishi, and Fujitsu appear to be a couple of the better brands. This link is informative in showing the comparisons between different brands of Heat Pumps. The comments are very informative!

            https://www.furnacecompare.com/heat-pumps/reviews/

          • Willem Post

            Moshe,
            I buy propane under pre-buy at $2.38 per gallon. Each gallon has about 95,000 Btu. Heat to space = 95,000 x 0.80 efficiency = 76,000 Btu, or about 20 kWh.

            To get that much from a heat pump at 2.5 COP (on cold days), about 20/2.5= 8 kWh would be the electrical input, which at a cost of about 18.5 cent per kWh would be $1.48.

            You are indeed saving money, but 76,000 Btu would require about 2 or 3 heat pumps at a cost of about $7500-$12000, installed, unless you heat just the downstairs with your heat pump, in which case you would need just one heat pump at a cost of about $4000, installed.

        • Willem Post

          Glenn,
          Some years ago, I changed my 25-year-old oil-fired furnace for a condensing propane-fired furnace.

          To get the full 10% efficiency benefit of condensing mode operation, I would need to change out the standard baseboard units for high efficiency units with larger surface areas that could operate at hotwater distribution temperatures of about 130F, instead of the about 180F of the standard units.

          The cost of the furnace change was about $10,000.
          The cost of the baseboard change would be about $4000.

          If my house were a very energy efficient house, I would have 2 ductless heat pumps at a cost of about $8000.

          No hotwater piping for heating would be required, as there would be no baseboard units.

          I would still need a propane, gas, or wood-fired heating system for emergencies and during the colder days of the winter

          GMP would be happy selling me all that electricity at high prices, and the fuel dealer would be unhappy selling me very little.

      • John Baker

        Ms. Palmer, oil and coal are not greenhouse gases but I will give you the benefit of the doubt on that one. But even if we assume the GHG emission of natural gas are equal to coal and oil, natural gas is still much “cleaner.”

        As for the Howarth study you reference, if you have done a little more research, you would have found out that his numbers are considerably higher than the scientific consensus.

        http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-011-0333-0

        http://www.capp.ca/getdoc.aspx?DocId=215278

        • Willem Post

          John,

          Hogarth’s “studies” have been found in error by a number of energy systems analysts.

          They found he grossly over estimated the CO2 of natural gas.

          There are people who know little about energy systems who find his studies useful for reinforcing their energy views, which are often agenda based, rather than fact based.

    • Melanie Peyser

      It’s funny you should say that, Mr. Robinson since Don Gilbert, VGS’ former CEO said almost exactly the same thing to me at the Addison Field Days last summer. I asked him whether he thought it was fair that people in Franklin and Chittenden Counties had no choice but to pay for this pipeline, and he replied, “But they do have a choice. They can stop gas service anytime.” Here’s the problem with that attitude: VGS has been allowed to do a whole bunch of things that have messed with the natural price signals that people should have received when they decided to convert to natural gas. VGS was allowed to set up a fund to take money from current customers – a 5.4% rate reduction that they should have received in 2011 so that VGS could then spot new customers with that money so that the price differential between oil and gas would look better to folks in Addison County. The Public Service Board was told that without the fund rates could swing as much as 10-15% and then potential new customers wouldn’t want gas. That was back when all customers – new and old – were only going to be paying for a $60 million pipe. When VGS convinced people to convert to natural gas in places like Richmond, Hinesburg, and Enosburg Falls, the company didn’t mention that if they overspent on the pipeline the rates would swing at least that much IN ADDITION TO the 5.4% reduction that had never happened. VGS also didn’t have to mention that if the pipeline cost a lot more the projected savings that they were advertising would be reduced greatly. And, they never had to bother to mention that the price of oil and propane might go down making the savings from switching even lower too. So, lots of people took loans of thousands of dollars or are paying to lease natural gas furnaces and boilers after paying for hazmat disposal of their own equipment. Now, they’re VGS’ hostages. The can’t switch back without losing their investment and buying new equipment again, AND they’re not getting the savings they were promised. Here’s the other problem with your attitude: you’re falling into the same trap. Natural Gas is not going to cost much less than oil and propane, and you probably won’t break even on your investment for at least 10 years – by which time, I promise you we’ll have incredibly effective heat pumps and solar arrays the size of a kitchen window to run them. And that’s not all! In addition to paying all that extra for the expansion to your house, you’ll be paying for VGS’ next overpriced, poorly managed boondoogle to expand to Rutland. All of that infrastructure will be added to YOUR bill. You’ll be the hostage, and others will be writing the same comment you just did. The fact is that it’s plain wrong to tamper with the price information that people receive by masking the real price to make natural gas more attractive than it really is. Folks up north shouldn’t have to suffer so that more people can be duped into buying the home heating fuel equivalent of the 1980s Columbia Record Club.

  • Jane Palmer

    OMG. Here we go again. Everyone above seems to be arguing about how this is not a solution and that is not a solution and this is as bad as that so …..what? Are we to do nothing and let large corporations decide what is best for us?
    OK..so humans are bad for the earth. But we are here and I am human so I am just trying to gather what information I can and have some effect in helping our regulators make the best choices for my fellow human beings. And I am sorry if some don’t agree with me, but this article (remember the article?) is about the PSB process for deciding whether or not this gas pipeline is still a good idea in light of the most recent cost upgrades. I do believe the build out of expensive fossil fuel infrastructure at this time of climate crisis is a step in the wrong direction and no, I don’t have a perfect sustainable solution for our energy needs. But why accept this pipeline if it is not a solution either and the only benefits fall to a few large corporations? And shouldn’t we be subjecting VGS to a rigorous and detailed interrogation as to how they could have been so terribly off on their original estimates and why some of their submitted figures are not congruous? Somebody has to be minding the store and our dear DPS isn’t doing it so we should all be paying attention and standing in hallways and holding signs to make is clear that we are all in this together and we need to make sure this pipeline is not a really really really stupid move. Cuz it looks like it is to me.

    • Jeff Noordsy

      Well said Jane. I, for one, am fully in favor of Universal Health Care but realize that at this point, that is not a cost effective program. In simple terms, it’s a great idea that we cannot currently afford. Those who tout natural gas as the future of Vermont need to ask themselves if it too is an idea that they support but cannot afford. Even if you believe the current cost estimates (and those who have been watching are rightfully skeptical) I ask how on Earth it makes sense to provide service to 2600 homes at a cost of $154 million? Even if you believe that natural gas is “good,” any reasonable person can look at these numbers and question whether or not the benefits support the costs. There’s no reason to let blind support of so-called natural gas cloud your mind as to realities of the costs. Costs, by the way, that are to be borne by already overburdened Vermonters.

      And, while admitting that I am by no means an expert on heat pumps I find it strange and a bit funny that folks continually point towards the difficulties these systems have in “extreme” cold weather. Last I checked this project is slated for the Champlain Valley and thus talk of heat pumps in this context reflects their use in this particular region. The Champlain Valley (or as we know and love it here, the “Banana Belt”) has a climate more akin to that of Hartford, CT than Northern Vermont. Yes, it can get cold here but to call the weather in Middlebury and Vergennes “extreme” is disingenuous. All this is to say that I am confident that heat pumps would be much more effective in Salisbury and Whiting than in Jericho and Johnson.

      • Melanie Peyser

        And, that’s not to mention the fact they’re used in lots of much, much colder climates in Europe and Eurasia where natural gas and other heating fuels aren’t reliably available. In most of these places, electric power grids are also overwhelmed. Heat pumps keep houses warm without the added drag on the electric grid of space heaters. In Vermont, electricity use increasingly peaks in the summer because of cooling requirements. A comparison of conversion to heat pumps versus natural gas shows that overall electricity use in Vermont would go down because fewer people would run air conditions in the summer. The real tragedy hear is that there is so little accurate information available to the public so that they can make good choices for themselves and the climate.

        • John Baker

          Exactly what information is not available to the public? Heat pump performance? Natural gas cost? Natural gas GHG emissions?

          I’ve read and reread your post and I still can’t figure out what your point is.

        • Willem Post

          Melanie,

          I lived in various countries in Europe for 26 years and natural is RELIABLY available in Europe.

          It is much more expensive than in the US, because most of it is imported.

  • Chris Robinson

    Jane – Based upon current rates I would save approximately 50% on my heating costs. The cost of fuel oil is nearly 2x the cost of natural gas per BTU. Natural gas is currently cheaper than heating with wood pellets, which I also use. My oil boiler is just over 20 years old and is planned for replacement as soon as I am certain Natural gas will be available. I am looking forward to an average savings of approximately $1200/year at current rates. I have run the economic benefits and I support the benefit of having the option of how to heat my house. Just think, maybe the savings I reap could be spent on supplemental heating options such as heat pumps in mild weather or perhaps spent in the local economy.

  • Jane Palmer

    Chris,
    It sounds like you’ve bought the VGS propaganda hook line and sinker. Those are figures that VGS was touting BEFORE the drop in oil prices and before the “new”cost estimate…the last one. And geez..you must really have either a huge house or it seriously needs some weatherizing.
    I am sorry to say that I fear those of you who still think they will save big bucks by switching to gas will be disappointed. Either the pipeline won’t get built, or the distribution will be cut back due to high costs, or the rates will be so high to pay for the insanely expensive pipeline or all of the above. Best to put your dollars into weatherizing your building.
    Or… you could move to Franklin County. I hear real estate is cheaper up there.

  • Michael Bielawski

    All you people protesting this need to understand you are being hoodwinked into promoting austerity on yourself! Look at who’s funding Green Peace etc, it’s all the same big oil Rockefeller interest you think they are against.

    Solar and wind are not economical by any standard, they are subsidized so much even the experts can’t even say what they really cost. I know, I’m a journalist and have been writing about this stuff for years. Without subsidies they are around at least 15 cents per kilowatt hour, about 3 times that of natural gas.

    Carbon dioxide is driven by changes in temperature, not the other way around, even the IPCC has admitted that. Natural gas can bring Vermont affordable energy so small families like mine don’t have to live in worse austerity.

    The media is bought and sold by the green agenda, which is green in name only, it’s just Wall Street interests who want to make us pay more for energy. Please snap out of the climate hysteria and think rational!

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