Regulators OK Lebanon Gas Project
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By Tim Camerato Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 07, 2018
Concord — Despite opposition from area officials and some environmentalists, the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission this week awarded Liberty Utilities a franchise needed to construct a natural gas pipeline from Lebanon to Hanover.
In a 27-page decision issued on Monday, the commission said the company “possesses the financial, managerial, and technical expertise to successfully serve customers” in the two towns.
Liberty filed its request for a franchise in November 2016, and proposed to build a pipeline in two phases.
The company said it would start with a “turn-key supply operation” near the Lebanon landfill on Route 12A and eventually build out into downtown Hanover.
Liberty hoped to begin construction this year and estimated the project would cost $9.7 million in the first five years.
The project was opposed by environmental groups in the Upper Valley, as well as by officials in Hanover and Lebanon.
During proceedings in September, Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin argued the pipeline did not conform to the town’s renewable energy goals.
In May, Hanover residents voted to transition the community’s electricity to 100 percent renewable sources by 2030, with heat and transportation set to meet that goal by 2050.
Lebanon City Councilor Clifton Below, a former PUC commissioner, also argued the pipeline would not be in line with the city’s Master Plan, which promotes sustainable energy projects.
The PUC ruled that it couldn’t take those concerns into consideration.
“While we acknowledge Hanover’s, Lebanon’s, and the public commenters’ environmental and public policy objections for the use of gas, energy and environmental policy is the purview of the Legislature and none of the parties or commenters has demonstrated that any law or regulation would prohibit the expanded distribution of natural gas in the state,” the commission wrote.
The PUC’s ruling drew largely from a settlement signed by state regulators and Liberty in late August that called for the company to obtain a franchise but sought to protect utility ratepayers from the project’s financial risks.
In the settlement, Liberty consented to hold off on construction of a pipeline until it first obtained enough customers to pay off half of the project’s cost over the first 10 years.
The PUC ruling requires additional information from Liberty and attempts to strengthen the settlement to protect ratepayers.
Under state law, the franchise will expire in two years.
If construction is not completed in 2020, Liberty must petition the commission to continue its franchise.
The utility also must obtain approvals from the Lebanon Zoning and Planning boards to move ahead with the project.