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Lebanon-Hanover natural gas project no longer in the pipeline

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/11/2020 9:26:03 PM
Modified: 7/11/2020 9:26:01 PM

LEBANON — Plans to build a natural gas pipeline in Lebanon and Hanover appear to be dead after Liberty Utilities did not request an extension of franchise rights that expired in March.

New Hampshire regulators in 2018 gave Liberty two years to complete construction of a pipeline slated to start near the Lebanon Landfill and end in downtown Hanover.

If the pipeline was not “flowing gas” by March 5, 2020, Liberty was to file an update and ask for more time, the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission ordered.

But the company didn’t ask for an extension or seek the approval of Lebanon’s Planning Board, an important step required to start construction.

“The order clearly states that Liberty’s franchise authority will expire if it’s not exercised within two years,” said Amanda Noonan, director of consumer services and external affairs at the PUC.

She called Liberty’s lack of action “unusual” and said it’s unclear whether the company would have to start regulatory proceedings from scratch if it sought to revive the project.

“We’ve never had this happen before,” Noonan said in a phone interview. “Typically when you grant a franchise, service commences.”

Emails requesting comment from Liberty spokesman John Shore were not returned by deadline Friday.

Opponents of the project celebrated the news, declaring, “That pipeline is dead!” in an email blast Thursday morning.

Liberty had won approval for a “turn-key supply operation” near the Lebanon landfill on Route 12A, in which gas would be trucked there and then sent north by pipeline into downtown Hanover.

“It was a bad business proposition, and we helped save Liberty and their ratepayers from getting into what would have been a fiasco,” Jonathan Chaffee, a West Lebanon resident and intervenor in the proceedings, said Friday.

Chaffee and other Upper Valley residents spent years campaigning against the proposed pipeline, arguing natural gas contributes to climate change and that the “fracking” process used to extract the fuel is harmful to the environment.

The opposition effort, which included hundreds of letters to the PUC, showed that there’s little residential support for natural gas, Chaffee said, adding that officials representing Lebanon and Hanover also testified against the pipeline.

“A page has been turned. There’s a new reality, and people are contentious of the need to decrease fossil fuel use,” he said.

Dartmouth College’s 2019 announcement that it planned to spend $200 million on a “green energy” initiative to upgrade its heating and electricity system with a focus on renewable fuels may have played a role in the pipeline’s delay.

The college was once considered an anchor customer for the project, and Liberty hasn’t publicly announced what large institution could take its place. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center hasn’t had talks about signing on to the pipeline, spokesman Rick Adams said in an email.

Liberty estimated construction would cost $9.7 million in the first five years, with about 50% of those costs met by securing a single, large customer.

But in its ruling, the PUC called the notion of relying so heavily on a single customer an “unacceptable risk,” and the three-member body imposed additional restrictions that would force shareholders to foot shortfalls.

Chaffee, who had access to additional information about the pipeline as an intervenor, also said that Liberty’s option to use land on Route 12A for the pipeline expired.

Calls left for Upper Valley Sand and Gravel, which owns the property south of the Lebanon landfill, were not returned Friday.

Liberty still has an option to use land owned by Hanover developer Jay Campion, he said Friday.

Campion had sought approval for a natural gas depot of his own off Route 120 but withdrew from proceedings after striking a deal with Liberty. Campion wouldn’t say when the option expires but said he’s still in touch with the utility company.

“I’ve got plans of my own for that property that might actually involve them,” he said via phone.

Liberty would still need to win approval from the PUC and the city of Lebanon for any such project there.

Campion, who declined to further discuss plans for the property, last year pitched plans for a 250-unit condominium project, which would be supported by its own heating, power and wastewater treatment plants.

The so-called Signal Park proposal went before the Planning Board for a conceptual review, but Campion hasn’t yet submitted formal plans to the city.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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