Vt. PSB holds gas pipeline hearings - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. PSB holds gas pipeline hearings

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MONTPELIER, Vt. - Dozens of concerned Vermonters packed into a room in Montpelier Monday to see the Vermont Public Service Board review Vermont Gas Systems' Addison-Rutland Pipeline project.

"They should cancel the Certificate of Public Good. It's not the original project, a lot has happened, the cost is way over," said Ivor Hughes, a Monkton resident in attendance.

The 43-mile pipeline would run from Chittenden County to Middlebury.  The estimated cost went from $87 million dollars in 2013 to nearly double that now. That big jump is why the Public Service Board is now questioning whether the project should continue.

Reporter Logan Crawford: Why were the cost estimates of this project so off to begin with?

Beth Parent/Vt. Gas Systems: I can't comment why they were so off, but what I can tell you is the company under Mr. Rendall's leadership went through a significant re-estimating of the project, and this cost estimate is now standing at $154-million.

Concern about the pipeline comes from not only residents who live in the path of Phase One of the project, but also environmental groups.
"This is an expensive, over-built, unnecessary project that's going to deepen our dependence on fracked gas," said VPIRG's Julia Michel.

Vermont Gas CEO Don Rendall just started on the job earlier this year, inheriting the ballooning costs. He canceled plans for Phase Two of the pipeline, to focus on completing Phase One.

Rendall maintains natural gas is safe and cheaper than oil or propane. Ralph Roam, an analyst hired by Vermont Gas, says price increases are common on projects similar to this pipeline.  "We see cost increases that range from 25-percent to more than doubling. It's not uncommon to projects I've seen here, it's not uncommon to projects I've seen outside of the state," he said.

Rendall says he does not expect the price of the project to increase again, but admits customers will see an as yet undetermined rate hike because of the higher project costs. "We have been acutely focused on potential rate impacts of the project and the cost recovery of the project and how best to accomplish both of those in a way that is good for our customers," he said.

The second day of the pipeline hearing is Tuesday. If the Public Service Board gives the OK, the first 11 miles of the pipeline will be completed this summer. The project is expected to be finished by the end of 2016.

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