Vernon, Vermont, could host natural gas plant

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VERNON >> Since the closure of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, there has been much ado about what might happen to the site now that it is no longer home to an operating nuclear reactor.

There was some talk last year about bringing a biomass plant to Vernon, but regional opposition to proposed biomass plants has been fierce and that proposal appears to have been shelved for now. But, at a recent Vernon Planning Commission meeting, a pair of men discussed the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline and how Vernon just might be able to profit from its construction.

"My goal is to get as much information out to the public and have a community discussion," said Bob Spencer, chairman of the Vernon Planning Commission.

Don Campbell and Hervey Scudder told the Planning Commission that because of the electric switchyard in Vernon, its experience as a host of a large power producer and the vicinity of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, Vernon might be the perfect spot for a natural gas plant producing electricity.

Even though the natural gas plant wouldn't require local approval, Campbell and Scudder told the commission they wouldn't pursue investors for a project in a town where they were not wanted.

"From our point of view, it's up to the leadership of Vernon," said Scudder, who lives in Brattleboro.

"We've started in Vernon because that seems to be the logical place to start," said Campbell, a resident of Winhall. "The town is most familiar with energy projects. After all, they have lived with Vermont Yankee for 42 years. And the town has been enthusiastic about re-using the site and re-tasking the existing electrical infrastructure."

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Spencer said the Selectboard and the Planning Commission are pleased Campbell and Scudder are taking a very slow approach to the project.

"We've been very happy to have someone come forward and talk with us, rather than being left in the dark," he said.

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"Our goal is to provide as much definition to the project to allow Vernon to guide the process," said Campbell. "We want this to be a binary decision."

On Wednesday, Sept. 23, at 6:30 p.m. in the Vernon Town Office Building, the Planning Commission will receive an update on the project.

Both Scudder and Campbell admitted there are a lot of unknowns that have yet to be considered before an actual natural gas project can proceed, including whether the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will even allow Kinder Morgan to build the pipeline from the Marcellus Shale formation in northeastern Pennsylvania, through portions of Massachusetts and into New Hampshire before terminating at a hub in Dracut, Mass. The project recently received approval from the staff of the N.H. Public Utilities Commission but faces stiff opposition from many of the Granite State towns identified for the pipeline route.

But Campbell said if the pipeline is approved, somewhere along its route, whether in Vernon or in New Hampshire, someone will most likely construct a facility to produce electricity. Campbell said he has received inquiries from people in New Hampshire but he would prefer to develop a site in southeastern Vermont. Campbell added if the project goes forward, it is very much up to the town of Vernon whether the plant is built there.

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"If Vernon says stand down, then we stand down. If Vernon wants to champion this project, we hope to give the town the tools it needs to do so."

"It's in our interests and the community's interest to have well-informed participation in this process," said Scudder. "We are not trying to jam this down the throat of the town."

Once the town receives more information, said Spencer, he hopes to host a public forum to discuss the possibility.

"We are going to be very careful about the whole process."

Spencer said the town plan calls for protection of its agricultural heritage and its rural nature, but having an industrial power producer in town for the past 42 years seems to point to the Vermont Yankee site as a prime piece of real estate.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.


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