Public Service Board Agrees To Indefinitely Delay Pipeline Hearings
The Vermont Public Service Board has agreed to delay technical hearings on a controversial natural gas pipeline project.
The second phase of the Vermont Gas Systems’ project would extend a natural gas line south to Middlebury and under Lake Champlain to the International Paper Mill in Ticonderoga NY.
On December 19th officials from Vermont Gas said they would ask regulators to indefinitely postpone hearings on Phase Two of the project, originally scheduled for January 12th to the 16th. Phase One costs are about $154 million, up from an initial estimate of $86 million. Vermont Gas spokesperson Beth Parent says they want to have new budget information on Phase Two before moving forward with the hearings. “Right now the company has not paused the project. We’ve simply asked the Public Service Board to defer technical hearings on Phase Two because those estimates are currently being revisited. We are currently working on the new estimate for Phase Two and we anticipate having the new budget estimate for Phase Two within the next month.”
The Vermont Public Interest Research Group, an intervenor in the proceedings, wants the board to sanction the company because it has not issued required quarterly budget updates on the project. Campaign Coordinator Julia Michel says the request by Vermont Gas came as they revealed another huge cost overrun. “Vermont Gas disobeyed prior board scheduling orders and failed to comply with the formal commitments it made. So we are obviously concerned about the viability of this project moving forward. The board should grant the Vermont Gas request only under a set of really stringent conditions.”
350-Vermont Coordinator Maeve McBride was glad that the PSB accepted the delay given the utility posted a price increase. “My understanding is that when there is a change of more than 20-percent in the cost or benefits of a project that the Certificate of Public Good, the permit here, should really be reconsidered. So the process around the Phase One permit, the first part of this project, should be re-opened and re-evaluated given that we now have nearly an 80-percent overall cost increase from the first estimates.”
Conservation Law Foundation Senior Attorney Sandra Levine notes that there have been numerous challenges for the pipeline project, and it’s clear the financial issues are just the tip of an iceberg . “The pipeline has faced cost increases and environmental impacts and opposition from landowners, acquisition of landowner rights, and there’s problems with environmental permits. There are problems with overall pollution impacts that I think tie into the cost issue but show that the cost issue is not the only issue.”
The Addison-Rutland Natural Gas Pipeline project is planned in three phases. Phase One, now under construction, builds the pipeline from Chittenden County to Middlebury. Phase Two continues the line to towns in Addison County and extends it under Lake Champlain to the International Paper mill. Phase three completes construction to Rutland.