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IP pipeline project advances

By: LOHR McKINSTRY

TICONDEROGA — International Paper’s Ticonderoga mill is one step closer to getting a natural-gas pipeline from Vermont to power its operations.

Vermont state regulators recently approved the first phase of a proposed 43-mile-long natural-gas pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury, Vt. Phase II would extend it another 11 miles, in part under Lake Champlain, to the Ticonderoga paper mill.

IP would pay $45 million toward the cost of the pipeline extension — a permit for that part of the project has been applied for from the Vermont Public Service Board by Vermont Gas Systems.

Representatives of the papermaker say the pipeline would reduce its annual fuel costs by an estimated $24 million at the Ticonderoga mill, which now burns fuel oil in its power-generating boiler.

International Paper spokeswoman Donna Wadsworth said this week that they’re pleased that the pipeline project is proceeding.

“We’re looking forward to continue to work with Vermont Gas Systems, and we’d like to be a customer by December 2015.”

She said IP believes it is very important to reduce energy costs at the Ticonderoga mill.

“As we’ve said before, we view this project as a significant cost savings and greenhouse gas reduction project.”

FRACKING OBJECTIONS

Opponents, among them environmental groups and some property owners along the way, argue the pipeline for IP would chiefly benefit another state and is trading one dirty fossil fuel for another fossil fuel.

But Vermont Gas Systems spokesman Steve Wark said the cleaner-burning natural gas from the pipeline would result in fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

“It will save that region $200 million in energy costs over a 20-year period, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by almost 300,000 tons and also help just the average residential consumer cut their (fuel) bills in half,” Wark said in a statement.

The Vermont Public Interest Research group and a group of homeowners in Monkton oppose the pipeline project in its entirety, arguing the natural gas it would carry is mostly obtained from a controversial hydraulic fracturing extraction process called “fracking.”

A Monkton, Vt., couple whose property the proposed Vermont Gas natural gas pipeline would cross has appealed the Vermont Public Service Board’s decision to give the project a Certificate of Public Good, seeking to amend the permit so the line can be no closer than 320 feet from their house. The approval says it can be no closer than 160 feet. No date has been set to hear the appeal.

The Cornwall (Vt.) Selectboard has also opposed Phase II of the pipeline expansion on the grounds it would benefit International Paper and not their community.

‘NO ADVERSE IMPACT’

Vermont Gas applied for a permit for the Addison Natural Gas Project Phase I in December 2012 so it could extend its service south along the western side of the Green Mountain State. Phase III of the project would bring natural-gas service to Rutland, Vt.

The Vermont Public Service Board praised Phase I of the natural gas pipeline plan as benefitting Vermont Gas customers and the state economy.

“The proposed project can be constructed, with the alterations required by this order, without undue adverse impacts on Vermont’s natural and built environment and without presenting a risk to Vermonters’ health and safety,” the board said in its findings.

As they await a decision on a Phase II certificate, the mill is getting ready for a natural gas conversion, Wadsworth said.

“We continue to engineer the project, which will convert our power boiler and limekiln to use natural gas.”

About 600 people work at the Ticonderoga mill.

Email Lohr McKinstry:lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com

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