By Luke Baynes
According to Steve Wark, director of communications for Vermont Gas, Williston is vital to the success of the project’s preferred route.
“Why am I here tonight?” Wark posed at the April 16 Williston Selectboard meeting. “I’m here tonight because Williston plays a critical role. Frankly, it would be very difficult to do this project without the Circ communities of Colchester, Essex and Williston.”
The preferred route for the pipeline – which would bring natural gas to Vergennes, Middlebury and other parts of Addison County – would bypass Burlington by following the route of the unrealized Circumferential Highway from Colchester to Williston. After passing underneath the Winooski River, the pipeline would follow Interstate 89 to the Vermont Electric Power Company (VELCO) substation off Sycamore Street. From there, it would track south to Addison County by following Vermont 2A to the “VELCO corridor” between U.S. 7 and Vermont 116.
The long-term plan of Vermont Gas – which gets its natural gas from Alberta via the TransCanada pipeline – is to service Rutland and points south, and to eventually connect to the U.S. natural gas supply.
“Essentially, Vermont is an outlier. We are connected to the Canadian system, but we don’t connect to any part of the U.S. system,” Wark said. “So what that does is it puts us at the very end of this Canadian system, and one of the reasons that we’ve started to think about expanding our system is not only to serve other people in Vermont, but ultimately, we’d love to be able to probably 20-25 years from now connect to the U.S. system and have access to a different source of gas.”
Citing the 450 Jericho residents who reduced their annual carbon dioxide emissions by 900 tons by converting to natural gas, Wark said Vermont Gas’ growth vision complements Vermont’s vision of becoming a greener state.
“Our vision is that because natural gas is clean and supportable … it’s poised to be really a great fuel resource for not only the country, but in particular, Vermont,” said Wark. “We believe that it can help reduce this dependence – or overdependence – on foreign oil, and it can also reduce the greenhouse gas emissions profile in the state.”
However, the high pressure pipeline running beneath the town’s surface wouldn’t translate into increased natural gas services for Williston residents, due to the fact that the town lacks a “gate station” to step down the pressure of the gas transmission to a level suitable for residential use.
Selectboard Deputy Chairman Jeff Fehrs addressed that shortcoming by asking Wark what tangible benefits Willistonians can expect to receive from the project.
“What do we get out of it?” Fehrs asked. “It sounds like there will be no benefit in terms of providing additional gas to Williston.”
Wark responded that in addition to providing increased reliability to existing natural gas customers, the pipeline would offer tax benefits to the town. Although he was unable to provide specific figures during the project’s conceptual stage, Wark noted that natural gas transmission lines are generally valued between $1 million and $1.5 million per linear mile and would be subject to municipal taxes on an annual basis, based on that assessed value.
Wark added that the project should be looked at in terms of its benefit to the state as a whole.
“I see this as a greater good project. I see this as a way to help other Vermonters, and sometimes, it doesn’t always help the person that you’re immediately going through their area,” Wark said. “It will help people in Addison County to lower their bills, it will reduce carbon, and that money comes back into the economy.”
In an April 19 letter to Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire, Fire Chief Ken Morton wrote that the proposed natural gas transmission line would require increased training for emergency responders and more sophisticated metering equipment for detecting and quantifying gas levels.
However, Morton also noted: “When compared to other fuel transport options, pipelines rank among the safest modes of transporting fuels, and/or natural gas.”