Natural Gas Facility Proposed in Lebanon
Lebanon — The natural gas boom could be making its way to the Upper Valley.
Hanover and Lebanon commercial property owner Jay Campion wants to build a natural gas facility off Etna Road in Lebanon’s growing Route 120 corridor, the industrial hub of the city. It would be the Valley’s first distribution center for natural gas, an increasingly popular and lower-cost alternative to diesel, propane, and other traditional fossil fuels that has also drawn criticism from environmentalists.
Campion, an Etna resident, said last week that he sees natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to wean the economy off fossil fuels and toward renewable energy. He said that natural gas burns cleaner than diesel and costs half as much by the gallon, making it not only a greener fuel but also economically feasible.
“Especially when it comes to things like transportation fuel, there’s nothing really out there,” Campion said. “This is better than burning diesel in terms of cleanliness and in terms of cost.”
The industrial development would be known as Signal Park, and would also include a commercial storage facility and a bus station that would supply natural gas to vehicle fleets, but the plans have yet to be finalized. The Planning Board will take up a big-picture “conceptual review” of the proposal, which is still sparse on details, on Dec. 9.
Planning Board Member Nicole Cormen said on Tuesday that it was too early to speak about the project, as the Planning Board had not yet discussed it. Christine Frost, executive director of the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission, also declined to comment on the project because it was still in the conceptual phase. Her group has been trying to help locate an intermodal transportation center near the Route 120 corridor.
Campion, who would be a partner in the facility, said he anticipates a robust market for natural gas in Lebanon.
“It’s been very enthusiastically received by potential customers,” he said.
There are two other natural gas facilities already within city limits, at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center campus and at the Kleen Laundry facility on Foundry Street.
Signal Park would host Valley Green Natural Gas, which would receive liquid natural gas via tanker trucks and then transfer it into compressed natural gas on site, to be delivered to nearby businesses and potentially residential areas as well via a pipeline. The extent of the pipeline would depend on customer demand, according to Campion, who said it costs about $1 million to build a mile of pipeline infrastructure. Campion declined to estimate the total cost of the project.
“We’re just in the stages of how the business plan would work out,” he said. “The big expenditure items are really sensitive to scale.”
For instance, Campion said customer demand would determine the size and number of tanks at the site, but he said that the footprint of the natural gas facility is smaller than one might expect.
“The tank and pipe company really doesn’t take up a lot of room,” he said.
Campion would situate the development on a 180-acre parcel off Etna Road, behind the Dartmouth Coach bus station. About half of the land is zoned for industrial use, and the other half is zoned rural.
Campion also owns property nearby that is to be developed into a Hilton Garden Inn and Conference Center, and he owns the Campion Building on South Main Street in Hanover, home to several businesses.
Campion said that any businesses or homes near the still-to-be-determined pipeline would be able to hook into the natural gas supply. Aside from the “primary loop” serving the immediate area of the development, Campion said the first major customer base he would target would likely be the Centerra business park up the hill off Route 120.
“That’s the kind of size you could expect to justify the investment of putting the pipeline in,” he said. “And there’s a cost associated with storage of the fuel and a cost associated with the vaporization process.”
In addition to bridging the energy gap between fossil fuels and renewable energy supplies, Campion said the transportation hub — a long-discussed need in the Upper Valley — would bolster the area’s public transportation network by providing a place for transit companies to fuel-up vehicle fleets on natural gas.
“That’s happening in a lot of places,” Campion said of natural gas-fueled bus services. “In order for something like that to happen in the Upper Valley, this is what has to happen.”
Some Twin State businesses are also switching to natural gas. Two weeks ago, APC Paper in Claremont said it will convert its process and climate heating systems from fuel oil to compressed natural gas, with the gas to be trucked to the Claremont paper mill from a compressor station in northern Vermont.
Environmental And Safety Concerns
Natural gas, despite burning cleaner, is not without its critics.
Anthony Roisman, a Lebanon resident and environmental lawyer, described the availability of natural gas in the Upper Valley as a change in the regional energy picture that may deter moves toward more renewable sources. To that end, Roisman called the potential pipeline a “dangerous step to take.”
He also said the environmental impact of installing a natural gas pipeline is “not at all trivial,” and that the disruption of land would be especially great in colder climates such as New England.
“Here, you’ve got to get below the frost layer,” he said. “If you don’t get below the frost layer, then the stresses the pipe is exposed to during the freeze-thaw cycle could be quite substantial.”
As for boosting public transportation, Roisman said that any expansion of public transit is “always a plus.”
“Expanding it using natural gas is better than using normal gasoline and diesel, so yes, that’s somewhat of a plus,” said Roisman. “Whether or not you need something as elaborate as he’s thinking of to get that benefit, I don’t know. I think he’s trying to pile up benefits to offset the inevitable cost as he spreads this out sort of like a spiderweb of piping to these variable places.”
Campion said that aside from Centerra, he sees downtown Lebanon as another possible extension. He said he could also envision a secondary facility near the airport to service the Route 12A strip.
The storage and shipment of hazardous materials citywide has been a growing concern for the Lebanon Fire Department. Chief Chris Christopoulos raised concerns about a propane facility at Westboro Yard in West Lebanon over the summer in a discussion about natural gas facilities with the Planning Board.
Christopoulos said on Tuesday that he heard about the plans for Valley Green Natural Gas only recently, but he hasn’t devoted too many resources to it yet because it is still in the conceptual phase.
“Truthfully, it’s a trend we’re going to see more of with the price of natural gas being so low,” he said.
Christopoulos said because the natural gas facility would be a regulated public utility, it could come under the control of the state Public Utilities Commission as opposed to city fire regulations.
“Where my authority begins and ends, I haven’t really researched it yet,” he said.
But he said he plans to impose the same restrictions on natural gas deliveries during morning and afternoon commuting hours as he has applied to DHMC and Kleen Laundry.
If the Planning Board encourages “conceptual reviews” for major projects to help identify and resolve issues at an early stage in the city’s development project review process.
Roisman said if the natural gas utility were to be up and running in a short period of time, then Campion’s description of natural gas being a “bridge fuel” would be accurate, “provided that taking (natural gas) doesn’t either indefinitely postpone or substantially delay the introduction of a preferable alternative.”
But for the venture to make economic sense, Roisman said an operator would need to be looking beyond the near term.
“Obviously, if he thought this was only going to last for five years and then was going to be defunct, this wouldn’t make economic sense to him,” Roisman said. “You don’t make an investment like that thinking you’re going to be out of business in five years.”
Ben Conarck can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3213.