Regulator orders investigation of Vermont Gas into pipeline depth

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Regulator orders investigation of Vermont Gas into pipeline depth

Fri, 07/14/2017 - 1:23pm -- tim

Vermont Gas Systems facebook.com file photo of pipeline construction from August 2016.

by Timothy McQuiston Vermont Business Magazine The Vermont Public Utility Commission today opened an investigation into whether Vermont Gas Systems violated its 2013 permit by burying its pipeline at a depth of less than 4 feet in 18 locations in New Haven. The company's Certificate of Public Good (CPG), issued on December 23, 2013, authorized the construction of the pipeline from Chittenden County to Addison County and required that the pipeline be buried at least 4 feet deep within electric transmission corridors for safety reasons.

On June 2, 2017, VGS filed notice with the commission that during pipeline construction the company had buried the pipeline at a depth between 3 and 4 feet at approximately 18 locations within the Vermont Transco LLC/Vermont Electric Power Company, Inc (VELCO) right-of-way in New Haven. The 2013 Final Order and CPG required that the pipeline be buried at a depth of 4 feet in the VELCO right-of-way. VGS requested that the commission consider this "minor change in construction technique" to be a non-substantial change, due to soil conditions and that both the Public Service Department and VELCO accepted the change. The Public Service Department acts on behalf of the public in utility cases.

Beth Parent, Communications and Brand Manager at Vermont Gas, issued the following statement:

“Vermont Gas is confident that we have constructed this project in a manner that meets or exceeds safety standards. Our permit requires that we comply with MOAs and MOUs, including the one we have with VELCO for our work in their corridor that requires us to meet loading standards for safety. Last month, we asked the Public Utility Commission to grant us a non-substantial change for 18 unique locations within the VELCO corridor in New Haven in what is often referred to as “clay plains.” When we determined we could not achieve four feet in those areas due to wet, swampy conditions, we worked with VELCO to ensure that we still met or exceeded their loading standards at our current depth. Both VELCO and the Department of Public Service have confirmed we meet safety standards. We look forward to providing additional information to the Commission so that this may be resolved soon.”

The Vermont Gas CPG authorized the construction of the "Addison Natural Gas Project," which consists of approximately 43 miles of new natural gas transmission pipeline in Chittenden and Addison Counties, approximately 5 miles of new distribution mainlines in Addison County, together with three new gate stations in Williston, New Haven, and Middlebury.

Vermont Gas, based in South Burlington, completed the pipeline in April of this year and immediately began serving customers in Middlebury. Vermont Gas is the state’s only natural gas pipeline service.

VGS was to have completed the pipeline last year. It faced severe cost increases, court challenges, and virulent opposition from groups as diverse as landowners, fracking opponents and the AARP. It also fired its first contractor.

The original cost of the project was $86 million; it then went to $121.6 million and $153.6 million. Vermont Gas has agreed to cap the ratepayer cost at $134 million regardless of the ultimate cost of the project.

This new PUC investigation (SEE ORDER BELOW) will determine whether VGS's deviation from the approved project plan is material or a substantial change to that plan and, if so, whether it is appropriate to order any remedial action, impose a penalty, or take any other steps authorized by law. The commission will also require VGS to submit evidence by August 11 to certify that the remainder of the pipeline has been buried at the required depth, and to conduct a root-cause analysis of the reasons for this and other construction-related deviations from the 2013 Final Order. The PUC will schedule a public hearing after it receives this information.

The text of the Public Utility Commission's decision and more information about Case No. 17-3550-INV are available via the commission's electronic filing and case management system, ePUC, or at the following website: epuc.vernont.gov. The company's certification information and details about the public hearing will also be available on this website.

Source: Montpelier, VT, July 14, 2017 - Vermont Public Utility Commission

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