I respect Mr. Bray's effort and applaud his attempt to get Vermont Gas to agree to do more for Vermonters. We have found that they have been extremely stingy when it comes to spending money on this project to make it a better fit for the folks who actually live in Addison County. I do have a few problems with the "all fuels" plan, though.
First, the plan just applies to "all homes and businesses located along Vermont Gas' distribution pipelines." THis still excludes the lion's share of Vermont's residents. It still won't include those landowners impacted by the transmission pipeline that are not being offered service. They will still have the privilege of hosting this pipeline for very little compensation, and will continue to pay taxes on land they can no longer use. My husband likens the easement VGS is demanding landowners sign to a distorted marriage vow -- landowners get to have to hold this pipeline 'til death do them part, but no love, honor or cherish is in the bargain.
Have you been to North Ferrisburgh lately? There are about 9 or 10 businesses within a half a mile of the intersection of Old Hollow Road and Route 7. If the optimistic predictions some have that "natural" gas will remain about half the cost of other fossil fuels, doesn't this make the playing field less level for those businesses that aren't being offered gas service?
Currently, we don't have to compete with businesses in Chittenden or Franklin county, but if businesses as close as Vergennes and Bristol are going to be offered gas service, and the price of as remains very competitive, this will definitely put us at a disadvantage. Our governor keeps saying he wants to create more jobs and this pipeline will help Rutland do just that. But this pipeline won't create any jobs. It will just set big thermal energy consumers up to save some money -- maybe -- and it will hurt a lot of small businesses like those in North Ferrisburgh.
Second, I went to the VGS website and was unable to decipher or even estimate how much of a discount or advantage this "all fuels" plan would give to the average resident (those that are located within the distribution areas). It goes without saying that a discount t a destitute family will do them no good if they can't afford the conversion or weatherization VGS would be offering in the first place.
One hundred dollars off a new energy-efficient hot water heater that might cost close to $800 will not be high on the priority list for a family that is struggling to keep gasoline in their vehicle and food on the table. These promises of savings seem rather vague and "iffy" to me and in the typical style of VGS.
Third, this proposition is a bit like helping VGS to hook folks up to a poison IV, with the added "advantage" that they will get a vitamin supplement added to the toxic potion. It may be a marginally better deal for a few residents, but it is still poison, and no, this pipeline is still not what Vermonters want. Over 600 people showed up in person to condemn the project last September at the Public Service Board public hearing in Middlebury. Over 95 percent of the 2000 letters and emails the PSB have received about the project were in direct opposition to the pipeline being built. We don't want this pipeline and we still won't want it even if it is sugarcoated.
Fourth, I have noticed that VVGS has stepped up their advertising campaign. It seems as though they are desperately trying to get Addison County residents to swallow this project. If, instead of spending all this money on advertising, they compensated landowners fairly and treated our sensitive wetlands and agricultural land with more respect, there would be no need for all of this advertising in the first place.
If this was such a good deal for Vermont, it would sell itself. But this company has demonstrated to many residents that they are not to be trusted. Any promise they make now should be taken with a grain of salt. And, as Don Gilbert personally told us, their PR people will say anything to get the job done. Their "award winning programs" have not earned any awards with most of the residents of Addison County.
Finally, in terms of the "economic benefits" touted by VGS, there are more indications now that "natural" gas will not remain competitive for long. Carbon tax proposals; newer more stringent rules pertaining to fracking; moratoriums on drilling; beefed-up processes for for exporting; more and more pipelines being installed -- all of these factors point to exponentially higher prices in the near future.
A friend in Monkton said she figured she would save approximately $800 per year if she switched to "natural" gas (contrary to the $2000 average savings figure VGS likes to throw around). When my friend figured in the $13,000 cost of hooking up and converting her boiler, she found it would take her close to 20 YEARS to realize any savings and that's only IF the prices stay relatively the same for all that time.
There is no benefit to the environment by switching from oil or propane to "natural" gas. Decreasing CO2 while increasing methane emissions and destroying wetlands and farmland to install this pipeline is not a step in the right direction. This expensive, environmentally disastrous pipeline is NOT necessary. The only entities this pipeline will benefit are Vermont Gas and its corporate parents, a handful of other extreme thermal energy users in the county and, of course, International Paper.
If Mr. Bray or anyone else in a place of political power would like to do something, they can step in front of this out-of-control bus that is threatening Addison County and beyond. That is what most Addison County residents want and need.
Jane Palmer, Monkton