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Not-for-Profit, Award-Winning Community News and Views for Windham County, Vermont • Since 2006

Vernon residents to weigh in on gas plant

Planning Commission schedules Nov. 10 public meeting to gauge local sentiments toward proposed power plant

VERNON—Town residents soon will have a chance to weigh in on a proposed natural-gas power plant that could be constructed somewhere near Vermont Yankee.

A public meeting has been scheduled for Nov. 10 at Vernon Elementary School. Vernon Planning Commission, which is hosting the session, expects to soon set a start time for the session — it will be either 6 or 6:30 p.m. — and notify residents via flier.

Officials are hoping for a good turnout that will give some indication of the town’s stance on undertaking a new industrial project. But they’re also warning that residents shouldn’t expect detailed site plans for a gas plant, given that the project still is in the early stages of development.

The proposed gas plant also presumes the existence of a natural-gas pipeline through Massachusetts and New Hampshire, a proposal whose fate is far from certain.

“This is just a broad informational meeting — this is where we are, and we want to see how you feel about it,” said Janet Rasmussen, Vernon Planning Commission’s vice chairwoman.

With Vermont Yankee having stopped power production at the end of 2014, officials at the town, regional, and state levels have been searching for ways to combat the loss of jobs and tax revenue.

The plant site itself is not available for immediate redevelopment given a lengthy decommissioning process and the long-term presence of spent nuclear fuel.

The Vernon Planning Commission is eyeing the extensive electrical infrastructure that long served Vermont Yankee, and officials have for months been talking with a potential gas-plant developer interested in the Vernon area. The idea is that a Vernon plant could tie into the proposed Kinder Morgan Northeast Energy Direct gas pipeline that might run through neighboring Massachusetts.

Many details are not yet clear. Don Campbell, a Winhall resident with utility-finance experience, has said he is working to assemble a “first-tier” development team for a Vernon plant but also said he cannot yet disclose specifics.

Likewise, no plant site has been publicly proposed: In September, Campbell said there were “four or five sites under consideration.”

At the same time, though, officials worry that they’ve got to seize the moment: Kinder Morgan is expected to soon file a license application for the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“We’ve got the chance to do this now,” Rasmussen said. “That chance is not likely to come around again.”

‘A comprehensive overview’

Planning Commission officials and Campbell have said they want public support for a gas plant before pursuing the project further.

Hence, the Nov. 10 forum, which was scheduled after discussion at an Oct. 19 Vernon Selectboard meeting.

Speaking for himself and for project partner Hervey Scudder, Campbell said he is hoping “a comprehensive overview of the proposed project strategy can be presented for Vernon’s consideration so they can make an informed decision on next steps.”

Otherwise, he deferred to the Planning Commission, which will conduct the Nov. 10 meeting. Rasmussen said she expects that the meeting will include a presentation on the implications of Vermont Yankee’s closure – both for the town’s grand list and for electric-generation capacity in the region.

“We really want our residents to understand why we chose to pursue this project,” she said.

Additionally, “we certainly will want to show what a gas plant might look like,” Rasmussen said. “There will be an approximation of how many acres it might take up, what it might look like, how many jobs it might produce.”

The word “might” is key: At this point, neither Rasmussen nor Campbell expect to produce detailed plans for a Vernon gas plant at the meeting. Rasmussen also said it will not be scheduled as a formal voting meeting.

“All we would like is a broad consensus from the town on whether to proceed,” she said.

Even if town officials and Campbell press forward, a Vernon gas plant is far from a sure thing.

Kinder Morgan has met stiff opposition along the pipeline’s planned route in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and Vernon officials have said they expect other towns to pursue gas-fired plants if the pipeline is eventually constructed.

“There is still a huge number of moving parts,” Rasmussen said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #329 (Wednesday, October 28, 2015). This story appeared on page A1.

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