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Vermont pipeline battle continues

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World Pipelines,

The Public Service Board is currently considering whether it will re-evaluate the permit for a Vermont Gas Systems’ 41 mile pipeline extension through Addison County.

Many people again turned up to protest outside the Vermont Statehouse for another hearing before the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) – something that has now become such a familiar sight. This comes after a petition – for the reopening of proceedings relating to the pipeline extension project – came from Sandra Levine, Staff Attorney at Conservation Law Foundation. The petition has been pending since 2014.

The Conservation Law Foundation brought a lawsuit against Vermont Gas in 2014, after the company first announced cost estimates had increased from US$86 million to US$121 million. The latest pipeline cost estimate is US$165.6 million, with ratepayers having to cover the US$134 million construction costs, due to a memorandum of understanding between Vermont Gas and the state.

The Conservation Law Foundation argues the Certificate of Public Good, which has previously allowed the Vermont Gas Pipeline, needs to be changed to align with the changes made to the market and project since.

Sandra Levine outlined her key argument. She claims that the project’s permit should be revoked as the economics of the pipeline project have changed vastly since first granted approval was granted in 2013, with the cost nearly doubling. She believes that in order to build the pipeline, regulators must reopen the case.

She highlighted that the PSB rules require careful reassessment and commented: “The near-doubling of the price of this project, combined with the changes in energy markets that affect what, if any, benefits this project provides, require a review."

She also questioned: "What is Vermont Gas Systems afraid of? If its project is as good as it keeps claiming it is, Vermont Gas has nothing to fear from and, in fact, should welcome a careful reassessment of the pipeline project."

Much of this argument revolves around whether a change in cost constituted a ‘substantial project change’, which could trigger reconsideration by the board. Levine is suggesting that the board imposes new conditions on the company's permit.”

A lawyer representing Vermont Gas Systems Peter Zamore, commented: “Vermont Gas has constructed the project on reliance on PSB precedent, interpreting substantial change to require project change. It would be highly unfair to revise the rules after Vermont Gas has incurred significant costs and after two remand proceedings and when and those remand proceedings did address costs."

The Department of Public Service’s Attorney, Louise Porter, said: “[the project’s] cost is part and parcel of the project.”

Essentially, Porter is stating that the increased cost does not justify an amendment process or a new permit.

Levine has stated that she is disappointed with the board’s slow response. She added that even though the project is nearly complete, the PSB should not hesitate to halt it. The price of oil in comparison to natural gas has dropped dramatically and the project may no longer be as good a deal to ratepayers as once thought.

Security staffed the PSB hearing. However, unlike many previous hearings on the subject, there were no disruptions or arrests.

Edited from various sources by Anna Nicklin

Sources: VT Digger, WPTZ, WCAX

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