People packed into the high school auditorium in Hinesburg, Vt. last week, to voice their opinions on a proposed natural gas pipeline before the Vermont Public Service Board.
Vermont Gas wants to extend service to customers in Addison and Rutland counties in western Vermont. The pipeline would run south from Williston to Middlebury, then under Lake Champlain to the Ticonderoga paper mill in New York.
Opponents rallying outside before the hearing focused on climate change and hydrofracking.
Vermont Gas is owned by Gaz Metro, a Canadian company; its gas is produced by hydrofracking in Alberta. "Solidarity forever!" opponents sang as they marched into the auditorium.
Inside, business leaders, environmentalists, farmers, students, and land-owners waited to be called to the mic. The testimony took over three hours.
Pipeline supporters argued that cheap natural gas supplies would help retain existing jobs and attract new businesses to western Vermont.
Garry Douglas, from Plattsburgh, New York, is chairman of the North Country Chamber of Commerce and the Regional Economic Development Council – a region that includes the Ticonderoga Mill.
That’s what brought Douglas, and several International Paper employees, to testify before the Vermont Public Service Board last week.
Douglas says it’s important to help major regional employers like International Paper reduce their costs.
"While it is a very efficient and modern plant and a very productive work force, there’s no question that they have a major cloud over their head with very high energy costs of operating that plant. We’ve looked with them at a number of options – the one that is most achievable is natural gas," said Douglas.
If the project is approved, the mill will receive $1.75 million of New York state money from the North Country REDC to convert its boiler and kiln from oil to natural gas.
The second of two hearings before the Vermont Public Service Board will be held on Sept. 11 in Middlebury.
Vermont Gas requires a Certificate of Public Good, issued by the Public Service Board, for the pipeline to go forward.