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Regulators Delay Pipeline Phase II Proceedings, Will Consider Sanctions

Vermont regulators have postponed hearings on the second phase of the Vermont Gas Systems pipeline project after the company revealed additional cost overruns and requested a delay.

In an announcement framed as a “reset” of the pipeline project, incoming Vermont Gas CEO Don Rendall said last month that the company was filing new, increased cost estimates for Phase I of the project. At the same time, the company asked for a hold on regulatory proceedings for Phase II so Vermont Gas officials could review cost estimates for the next phase.

The cost increases for Phase I, which is designed to bring Vermont Gas service south from Chittenden County to Addison County, could also cause the Public Service Board to reassess its approval of that project.

Phase II of the pipeline would bring natural gas from the terminus of Phase I in Addison County under Lake Champlain to the International Paper mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y.

Some opponents to the pipeline think a delay in considering Phase II was the wrong move. They think the Public Service Board should throw it out all together.

In comments to the Public Service Board regarding the Vermont Gas request for delay, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group said the board should go further. The environmental group called for “dismissal of the petition [for regulatory approval for Phase II] without prejudice on conditions.”

VPIRG’s comments pointed out Vermont Gas Systems’ failure to provide quarterly updates to the Vermont Public Service Board, which regulates utilities in the state. After a price increase announced in July, Vermont Gas committed to quarterly cost updates on both Phase I and Phase II, VPIRG said, but has not  delivered on that commitment.

Others involved in the case had no problems with the company’s request to delay Phase II hearings. Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources, the Conservation Law Foundation and a group of landowners along the pipeline route all supported the request.

Some pipeline opponents want to sack the project entirely. But Solar Haven Farm, in its filing with the PSB, called for a timely conclusion of the case.

The parties potentially affected by the board’s ruling on Phase II “should not be held in a perennial holding pattern wherein no personal or business plans can be made because at any time the Docket 8180 [for Phase II] could be reactivated,” wrote representatives for the Shoreham farm.

“In the interests of fairness to the parties,” the solar developer said, “Solar Haven Farm respectfully asks the Board to set a deadline by which VGS must make its decision whether it will withdraw or proceed with its Docket 8180 petition. The docket 8180 must have closure date.”

In the its ruling allowing the delay, the Public Service Board said it “will determine at a later date whether to hold a status conference, and whether to reschedule the technical hearings in this proceeding or dismiss VGS’s petition." Finally, the ruling said, “the board will address the request for sanctions in due course.”