JOINT STATEMENT OF TOXICS ACTION CENTER AND JUST POWER RE: VERMONT GAS PIPELINE RULING
January 8, 2016
MIDDLEBURY, VT – The Vermont Public Service Board today issued a ruling stating that it would not reconsider the certificate of public good issued in December 2013 to Vermont Gas Systems, Inc. (VGS) to expand its transmission pipeline into the heart of the state.
The decision comes in the wake of news earlier this week that over 1,400 businesses, organizations, faith and community leaders, and individuals predominantly from Vermont signed a letter requesting that pipeline construction be stopped where it is at 11 of the 41 total miles. (See press release, letter, and signers at this link: http://www.toxicsaction.org/news/tac/1400-sign-letter-end-gas-pipeline-project) Even though the deadline for signing passed, the tally has continued to go up and is now 1,500.
For the last few years, Toxics Action Center staff and Just Power volunteers have followed the Board proceedings closely, carrying out extensive fact checking on VGS’ claims and review of the Department of Public Service’s (DPS) and other parties’ analyses. We’ve found everything ranging from obvious math errors to repeated instances of contradictory and misleading statements in VGS’ testimony and exhibits.
DPS is the public’s sole representative in utility cases. We’ve been alarmed by DPS’ blind support of VGS, including the shifting of goal posts to accommodate VGS’ cost increases and delays. In light of DPS’ unwillingness to enforce project conditions and regulations, we have little confidence that VGS’ pledged rate cap will hold. Ratepayers will not be able to enforce the agreement, and we have yet to see DPS do anything but VGS’ bidding since review of this pipeline began four years ago.Today's decision sheds light on the broken regulatory process. The ruling relies on vague statements from VGS about how it might mitigate exorbitant rate increases necessary to pay for the project and notes that those options will be addressed in a future rate case. However, VGS could have filed a rate request already. Instead, the company, with ardent support from DPS, extended its Alternative Regulation Plan and deferred the costs of the first 11 miles of pipeline until next year. In other words, the latest cost increase could have been reviewed on the basis of facts. Instead, customers are left with continued uncertainty about cost increases that will affect them decades into the future. When DPS protects the utility rather than the public the regulatory process as a whole is broken.
In 2011, VGS received special dispensation from the State to pre-charge customers for what VGS said would be a distribution line serving businesses down Route 7 at a total cost of $60-70 million. Today, with a price tag of $154 million, rate increases that could exceed 15%, almost no price difference between fracked gas and oil, alternative home heating options dropping in price, available compressed natural gas for commercial customers, and a dangerously high-pressure transmission line that cuts through prime agricultural land and sensitive wetlands, the project and the conditions around it are simply unrecognizable.
With so much at stake for Vermonters’ safety, health, and economy, we today call on the Board to reverse its decision and appoint independent counsel to represent the public immediately. Vermonters deserve a fair and thorough review of this large-scale utility project. Under these circumstances, the only way the public good can be served is through effective representation by independent counsel – whether before the Board or before the Supreme Court on appeal.###CONTACTSShaina Kasper, TAC, 802-922-4780Rebecca Foster, JP, 646-468-3511