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Does The Vermont Gas Pipeline Have An Expiration Date?

Exterior of the Vermont Gas building.
Taylor Dobbs
VPR File
New hearings on the Vermont Gas Systems pipeline to Addison County may void a recent agreement between the company and the state.

Vermont’s utility regulators have announced a new round of hearings in the case of the Vermont Gas Systems pipeline to Addison County. But the timeline of the hearings has the potential to void an agreement between the state and the gas company that's designed to limit the pipeline's impact to ratepayers.

The announcement of new hearings came as parties to the case awaited a decision from the board on whether or not the regulators will revoke, change or uphold permission granted to the project in December 2013.

After the project’s estimated cost went from $86.6 million to $154 million last year, the board announced that it may reopen its examination of the project’s costs and benefits.

In hearings scheduled for the first three days of December, the board will hear from Vermont Gas, the Department of Public Service and opponents of the project about the October agreement, the economics that support it and how – or if – the board should consider the agreement in deciding whether to reopen the case.

Vermont Gas spokeswoman Beth Parent said Tuesday that the agreement is evidence of the company’s dedication to bringing Vermonters affordable energy choices.

“The way we see it, the agreement that we reached with the department is our clear commitment to our customers – and really to our regulators – that we’re determined to contain the cost of the project and provide these significant economic and environmental benefits to Addison County and to the state,” she said before adding that the project is “on time and on budget.”

The agreement, however, isn’t a sure thing.

In the signed "memorandum of understanding," Vermont Gas and the Department of Public Service said the deal “shall terminate and be void” if the board fails to decide by January 8 whether to reopen its consideration of the pipeline project.

Parent says Vermont Gas will spend the December hearings “presenting more information about the importance of this agreement.”

When asked why the important agreement was designed to become void, Parent didn’t have a ready answer.

“I can’t speak to the specifics," she said. "We’re still going through the order right now and determining [a response]. We have a filing that’s due on Friday,” she said. “So right now we are focused on presenting the benefits of this agreement with the department to the board, to the other parties, and really showing our commitment to containing these costs and keep the project budget on track so we can ensure that it’s completed next year on time.”

Asked again about the January deadline that would void the deal with the state, Parent again did not address the question.

“I have to go back and state again that we presented a very strong case about the benefits of this project and this agreement is very good for customers; it’s keeping the project budget on track, and it’s going to help ensure the completion of this project, which is really going to bring a positive energy choice to more Vermonters next year,” she said.

Public Service Comissioner Chris Recchia said Vermont Gas "might" pull the plug on the entire pipeline if the Public Service Board doesn’t decide whether to reconsider its approval of the project by January 8.

Department of Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia had a different answer about the January deadline the state and Vermont Gas have imposed on the Public Service Board.

“I guess the best way to think about this,” he said, “is without a ruling by then, what it does affect is the overall schedule for the project and therefore the cost of the project, beyond which the company is not sure they wish to proceed, and they’re going to want that option.”

Recchia said Vermont Gas “might” pull the plug on the entire pipeline if the Public Service Board doesn’t decide whether to reconsider its approval of the project by January 8.

In a subsequent interview, Parent wouldn’t say if the company still plans to build the pipeline if the board reaches a decision after January 8.

“I don’t think that that’s something that I can comment on. We are moving forward right now,” she said before adding that the project is “on time and on budget.”

Parent also reiterated the importance of the agreement.

“It holds us accountable,” she said. “So it’s going to keep the project budget on track and ensure that it’s completed next year.”

Asked what will hold the company accountable if the agreement is voided on January 9, Parent said that “the agreement right now is not voided,” adding that the company is going to finish the pipeline “on time and on budget.”

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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