Natural gas and economic fairness
As mayor of Vermont’s largest municipality outside Chittenden County, there are many points I’ve considered when evaluating the Addison Natural Gas Project. While it proceeds through a comprehensive review by regulators, here are some key considerations from Rutland City’s point of view.
Extending safe, clean natural gas to Addison and Rutland counties will cut fuel bills in half for residents and local employers.
That’s an enormous savings — $720 million over 20 years — for residents and employers. This savings is also a powerful tool for retaining and recruiting Vermont jobs. In recent discussions with site selection firms used by large employers, Rutland’s economic development officials have confirmed that natural gas would make our counties much more competitive.
Additionally, as a state, we should ask an important question: Does this project promote economic fairness?
Disproportionate economic opportunity, whether from town to town, or county to county, is a disparity that no progressive state should tolerate.
For nearly 50 years, Franklin and Chittenden counties have benefited from natural gas — where nearly 50,000 customers (about 90 percent of those eligible) choose the more affordable, cleaner and safer option. Delivered safely through Vermont Gas’ state-of-the-art underground pipes, the advantages of natural gas fueling local economies are plainly visible as you drive along Route 7, or in the classified ads and real estate listings in regional newspapers in northwestern Vermont.
As a matter of economic fairness, Vermont should embrace the opportunity to extend these benefits to more of our state. Those who can afford, financially, to pass up this opportunity — or finance the opposition — should not deny others opportunities to ensure a more economically secure quality of life.
More and more Vermonters are finding it difficult to make ends meet. Forgoing the opportunity to invest in critical infrastructure that can revitalize local economies, and generate resources necessary to address our human service needs — drug addiction and crime, homelessness and domestic violence, among others — would be socially irresponsible.
Converting to cleaner, more affordable natural gas has the added benefit of reducing each customer’s greenhouse gas emissions from heating by about 25 percent. There is no other heating fuel that offers the dual economic and environmental advantages of natural gas.
It is important to understand that extending service to International Paper (IP) is critical part of this project. Without IP as a customer it is not financially feasible to extend natural gas to communities south of Middlebury, and ultimately to Rutland, in any reasonable period of time. Moreover, IP is an important regional economic driver. They purchase 20 percent of their raw material from Vermont and help Vermont maintain healthy, managed and undeveloped forests.
We have an opportunity to provide IP — at great economic and environmental benefit to Vermont — a fuel that reduces their greenhouse gases by about one-third and dramatically cuts emissions from their stacks.
Opposing natural gas service to IP is to deny Vermont, and Rutland, the opportunity to maximize the economic and environmental advantages of this project. And it would result in IP’s continued use of dirty oil.
It is equally important to note that this project is not a choice between natural gas and renewable energy. We need both to build a cleaner, safer and more sustainable energy future.
Rutland believes strongly in renewables — we will be the solar capital of Vermont and New England — and renewable energy is a central part of our planning. As a cleaner, safer and more affordable fuel, natural gas complements renewable energy and will play an important role in transitioning to more renewables.
Evaluating projects based on economic, social and environmental advantages is the Vermont way. There are many good reasons to extend the economic and environmental advantages of natural gas beyond Chittenden and Franklin counties. Supporting this project is the right thing to do.
Christopher C. Louras is mayor of Rutland.