Vernon gears up for gas plant talk with state

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VERNON — The potential for a natural gas plant, which voters overwhelmingly supported in a non-binding vote last month, largely hinges on how Kinder Morgan's Northeast Energy Direct Project goes.

At a meeting Wednesday, Vernon Planning Commission Vice Chair Janet Rasmussen said the company expected preliminary approval of a route over the summer but final approval wouldn't be until the end of the year. Kinder Morgan's website says the natural gas pipeline is expected to be in service by 2018. While there are doubts around whether it gets approved, the commission wants to be prepared.

"That's why we had a town vote. We need to do certain things before that approval ever comes down the pike," said Martin Langeveld, the commission member who initiated talks with state officials on the issue.

Members of the commission will meet with Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development Secretary Pat Moulton and Public Service Board Commissioner Chris Recchia in Montpelier on May 2 at 3:30 p.m.

Before annual Town Meeting, the Planning Commission was approached with an idea for hosting a natural gas plant in Vernon. The town is home to the shut-down nuclear plant Vermont Yankee. While no firm proposal has been made yet, there was some interest in siting the gas plant on property at the Miller Farm.

A presentation made by the commission in February indicated that a 600-megawatt gas plant would be nearly equivalent to Vermont Yankee as far as power-generation capacity goes. Equipment from the gas plant could be connected to the Kinder Morgan pipeline, which might run through New Hampshire if approved, and the existing Velco switchyard and substation in Vernon.

After Gov. Peter Shumlin gave a speech at the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce's "Lunch with the Governor," Langeveld said he "snagged" Shumlin and asked him for his thoughts on the gas plant.

"Basically he said, 'Listen. (The pipeline is) never going to happen. I talked to my friends who are governors in New York, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and they're all opposed to it. This thing just isn't going to happen,'" said Langeveld, adding that Shumlin "totally agreed" if the pipeline was built then there should be a gas plant in Vermont. "I think you're going to get that same kind of reaction with Pat (Moulton) and Chris (Recchia). And I think you need to get past the pipeline issue because it's not a Vermont issue and it's not anything we can do anything about."

Langeveld said the gas plant would be sized according to what the switchyard would handle but the switchyard could be expanded while building the plant.

"I do feel we're at a very important point in Vernon with this gas plant, the town plan, the (town) Fiber Optic Committee. It just seems there's a lot going on, " said Planning Commission Chairman Bob Spencer, referring to several items expected to assist with navigating the town's future since the closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant resulted in the loss of approximately 600 jobs and a big chunk of Vernon's tax base.

The commission felt there were not enough funds available to hire a consulting firm to talk with developers, Spencer said. Proposals from two firms were looked at during a special meeting on March 29.

"Secondly, we felt the word was out. It's a small industry. Anyone who's looking for sites would certainly know about the Northeast Direct Pipeline and Vernon," said Spencer. "We also recognized that if we did need outside help, it would be in the form of attorneys reviewing our potential host-community benefits or whatever."

The Public Service Board process was looked at as another way of vetting a proposal. The PSB considers a multitude of factors when assessing energy projects. The process would provide "a lot of opportunity for input," Spencer said.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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