Bone up on your facts. Study the underlying problems facing the state. Consider both sides of the issue. Craft a concise two-minute argument to make your point and plan on presenting your opinion at the Public Service Board hearing on the proposed $70 million, 43-mile natural gas pipeline extending from Colchester to Middlebury.
The hearing for what is known as the Addison phase one pipeline will be held Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 7 p.m. at the Middlebury Union Middle School gymnasium. (See story, Page 1A.) The hearing will not discuss the more controversial “phase two” pipeline in Addison County that is proposed to run from Middlebury through Cornwall and Shoreham to the International Paper plant in Ticonderoga, N.Y.
In a nutshell, here’s how we see the challenge:
• The world is faced with an environmental crisis known as climate change. If we keep adding particles of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we’re dealing with fire and brimstone. Literally. The consequences are well known and costly.
• The best alternative is to develop renewable energy sources, but current capacity from those sources falls far short of meeting demand, and, to date, renewable energy is not a great source for many industrial uses because it doesn’t produce the consistent high heat needed in many manufacturing processes. Fossile fuels, hydro and nuclear power are a necessary part of today’s economy. We can transition to renewables, but to stay competitive and retain jobs, Vermont needs to have access to competively priced energy. As Vermont Commerce Secretary Lawrence Miller recently said, it doesn’t work to just put Vermont firms out of business. That’s not a viable answer.
Take those conflicting points, then, and plug in some interesting facts:
• According to a state energy overview in 2009, Vermont’s residential customers made up 37 percent of state consumption, compared to 35 percent for commercial users and 28 percent of industrial users. The state’s energy mix was 33.9 percent from Vermont Yankee, 32.6 percent from Hydro-Quebec, 13.5 percent from coal and natural gas, 6.4 percent from small hydro, 6.5 other, 2.5 from gas and oil. Alternative fuels made up just 4.6 percent of the state’s production; it’s less in the regional mix.
• Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan sets a goal of meeting 90 percent of the state’s energy needs in 2050 from renewable sources. That’s a worthy goal, but it’s also 47 years from now. Common sense suggests the state needs to rely on other sources of fuel as we develop that renewable capacity.
• Natural gas prices are currently, or will soon be, about 51 percent cheaper than fuel oil and 55 percent cheaper than propane. Currently there is an abundance of natural gas in the marketplace, keeping downward pressure on prices. Those low prices won’t last forever, and the fuel adds carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but it is an important factor when trying to keep industry in the state and attract new jobs — that’s true for Vergennes and Middlebury as well as Rutland.
In terms of available information and differing opinions, that’s just the tip of the melting iceberg. Choose your data, craft your message and make your views known. It’s for the record.
— Angelo S. Lynn