Editor’s note: The Middlebury selectboard considered and endorsed this letter, drafted by Selectmen Dean George and Victor Nuovo, endorsing a proposed natural gas pipeline.
On May 14, 2013, the Middlebury Select Board authorized the following statement clarifying the Board’s position on the Vermont Gas Pipeline and its impact on Middlebury by a vote of 6 in favor (George, Nuovo, Artim, Bingham, Baker, Forbes) and 1 opposed (Shashok).
As members of the Select Board of the town of Middlebury, we believe our primary duty is to work for the prosperity and well-being of all who live here. We were elected for this purpose by the voters, who also make the final judgment about how well we do. The Select Board is a deliberative body that develops policy and makes decisions for the public good. To that end we are listeners and learners, attentive to public needs and desires and the best information available to us. There are occasions when there is no easy harmony among the things we hear and learn and we must make hard judgments. But always, it is the public good as far as it can be assessed that determines our judgment.
Since May 2011, it has been well known that Vermont Gas was planning to bring natural gas delivery south from Chittenden County through Middlebury to Rutland. Recently the town and the Select Board were informed of the details of Phase I that would bring service to Middlebury. We have also been advised of Phase II, a gas line to the International Paper Mill in Ticonderoga; Phase II would accelerate the completion of Phase I to bring the benefits of natural gas to Middlebury’s residents, businesses and institutions. The Select Board was requested to support permitting Phase I by the Public Service Board. It did so in a letter signed by all the members of the Select Board. It is available at the town’s website.
During this time we have listened to testimony from concerned citizens, read articles, public letters and advertisements by individuals and groups who, for a variety of reasons, are opposed to the gas line. But we have also individually and collectively heard from many residents who eagerly await the chance to connect to the natural gas service to save on their heating (average $1,200-$2,000 annually per home) while simultaneously reducing emissions. Heating assistance programs are in place to facilitate these savings for more weatherization and even greater savings. Administrators of Porter Medical Center envision a large reduction in the annual heating budget, now above $1,000,000; so do local school facilities personnel of their $300,000 annual heating budget. Employers, large and small, tell us that the availability of natural gas will allow them to remain competitive and stay in business in Middlebury.
Opponents of the proposed gas line have decried our country’s reliance on fossil fuels and its effect on climate change, and stress the need to develop renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar and bio-fuels. We understand this and agree that renewables are necessary for a sustainable future. However studies by research universities, governmental organizations and private industry show that we are several years from having viable alternatives in sufficient abundance for all of our energy needs. This is especially true for meeting the thermal energy demand that is necessary for industrial production.
Thermal energy is the consistent supply of heat energy that is needed to make the steel that goes into efficient cars and wind turbines; the plastics that are used for solar panels, insulation materials, cell phones and computers; the pasteurizing and sterilizing of foods as well as the manufacture of bottles and other containers, and the creation of lifesaving pharmaceuticals. Our well being depends upon products made through thermal processes. These processes require constant and precise heating and for many applications cannot be achieved with current solar and wind technologies. Biofuels represent a partial solution but the majority of these are expected to be used to power transportation systems. Airplanes of the future may be able to carry hundreds of passengers with biofuel powered engines but solar or wind engines are unlikely.
According to a United Nations Industrial Development Organization report on the future of alternative fuels in manufacturing, by the year 2050 renewables will likely represent up to 21 percent of total industrial energy usage. We are aware that other studies may give a slightly larger number but the overall message is that for many years to come, a large part of our industrial energy needs will depend on the use of coal, oil, natural gas or nuclear power.
Manufacturing represents a critical part of Middlebury’s economic stability and future. Our companies make some of the finest products in the world including cheese (Agrimark Cabot), Hard Cider (Green Mountain Beverage) and ales (Otter Creek Brewing). These companies currently employ more than three hundred people, providing them “good jobs close to home.” They buy from local suppliers, among them local dairy farmers who could not otherwise sustain their iconic Vermont farms. These companies are participants in our eat local movement and the savings that they expect from gas use (Agrimark estimate of $3 million per year) will help them compete against larger producers in states that include California and Wisconsin.
These companies, as well as the other quality manufacturers that we want to attract, will hopefully replace the more than 300 lost jobs, provide significant growth to our grand list. A greater grand list brings greater revenues. Better public services. and perhaps lower taxes.
We also recognize that the employees of these companies contribute to our regional economies as taxpayers and consumers. They are an important part of our social fabric serving as volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians, Scout troop leaders and coaches for youth sporting activities. Their ability to provide good paying local jobs gives those employees the opportunity to provide all of us with the gift of their time, and we are a better place because of them. These are our companies and our citizens and they deserve our support.
Among the intriguing aspects of the natural gas pipeline is its ability to provide a conduit for transporting locally produced bio-methane, similar to solar panels on homes and businesses that produce and add electricity into the grid. For example, manure generated methane from dairy farms may be injected into the pipe network for transport to homes and businesses. In Middlebury we have started discussion to determine if methane that is produced at the town’s waste water treatment plant can be captured and sent through the pipe network. We can envision the possibility of using a locally derived, renewable product to heat our schools and public buildings. The construction of Vermont Gas’ pipeline brings this closer to reality.
Some have criticized the proposal for supplying natural gas to the International Paper Mill in New York, expressing opinions that IP is a bad neighbor who does not benefit us. We however know of Vermonters who rely on that plant, directly as employees and indirectly as contractors and suppliers, for the income that provides housing, clothing, food and educational opportunities for their families, and we know that they would disagree with the negative opinion of IP. These Vermonters as well as our friends, family members and neighbors in nearby New York state are contributors to our local economy when they come to Middlebury to shop, visit our restaurants and enjoy our entertainment opportunities.
We have heard some speak of the danger that the proposed natural gas pipeline will present, but the facts don’t support the statement. In the United States there exists more than 305,000 miles of natural gas transmission lines, serving the nation safely and reliably. Natural gas pipelines have an extremely impressive safety record that is unmatched in other transportation systems. We have greater safety concerns with the motor transport of propane, liquefied natural gas and oil through our towns. Motor carriers operate with very high safety standards, but cannot control the variables and hazards on our busy public highways, such as distracted, impaired or inexperienced drivers. Pipeline operators manage the entire transportation process through secured pipeline to achieve the highest level of safety. Ironically, many of the pipeline’s critics live, or previously lived in communities where natural gas service was available and enjoyed the benefit and savings from that fuel source. Our citizens deserve the same opportunity to choose natural gas.
Finally there has been criticism of Vermont Gas, a company with more than 45 years of experience providing natural gas to Vermont residents of Chittenden and Franklin counties. Our experience with Vermont Gas on route discussions and system capabilities has been very professional and informative. Currently the company is working with Middlebury’s Department of Public Works to establish how gas service can be implemented in town with the least amount of disruption. These discussions are proceeding well.
In conclusion, we believe that the greater economic vitality, reduced energy use, lower emissions, and public and private savings that the proposed Vermont Gas service will make possible constitute a public good. We therefore reaffirm the project and recommend its approval by the Public Service Board.