SWANZEY CENTER — If Liberty Utilities goes ahead with establishing natural gas services in town, they won’t involve the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline.
At least not at first, Liberty Utilities officials told Swanzey Selectmen Tuesday night.
Instead, the service will come from Keene, where Liberty’s company officials say they plan to convert the city’s more than 100-year-old propane-air mixture distribution system to carry compressed or liquefied natural gas. The change would allow Liberty Utilities to expand the distribution system to north and west Swanzey in the coming years, according to company officials.
As described Tuesday, Liberty Utilities’ plans for bringing natural gas to Swanzey are less dependent on the success of the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline than plans in Winchester, Jaffrey and Rindge.
“Swanzey is a little different thought process,” said Michael Licata, director of government and community relations for Liberty Utilities. “It isn’t dependent on the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, what we talk about tonight. We’re building down the distribution system (to Swanzey) from Keene.”
William J. Clark, business development professional for Liberty Utilities, said officials from the company began negotiations to acquire Keene-based N.H. Gas Corp. in early 2013.
Liberty Utilities purchased N.H Gas Corp. this January, which owned the Keene distribution system, after closing on the deal in late 2014.
“When we acquired this, the goal was to convert and expand system,” Clark said.
At the meeting in Swanzey Tuesday night, none of the approximately 15 people in attendance, or the town’s three selectmen, voiced opposition to Liberty Utilities’ proposal to expand the gas distribution system from Keene to Swanzey.
Selectmen Chairman Deborah J. Davis began Tuesday’s meeting by saying the presentation from Liberty Utilities officials was just informational, and the board wouldn’t make any decisions on the matter that night.
She said after the meeting that board members plan to talk further about the proposal at some point.
Questions from residents and local officials about the proposal focused solely on finances and costs.
Resident and town official Wallace E. Smith asked Liberty Utilities officials if at some point they’d provide the town with the company’s financial information.
“We want to make sure you’re not going to go out of business,” he said.
Company officials said they could provide that information.
Smith also asked if the town would have any liability once Liberty Utilities began constructing a natural gas distribution system in town.
Clark said Swanzey wouldn’t.
Licata said the natural gas coming from Keene to Swanzey would be more expensive than if it came from a pipeline because it has to be trucked in to supply the Keene system. But the natural gas could come down in price, if the system is eventually connected to the pipeline, he said.
He said Liberty Utilities officials plan to build a natural gas facility at the end of Production Avenue in Keene, and then build a distribution system line along Routes 9 and 101 to the intersection with Main Street. Lines would branch off at Routes 10 and 12 to bring natural gas to Swanzey. On the north side of Swanzey, a line would branch off at Route 32 to bring natural gas to the Dillant-Hopkins Airport and Safford Drive, which is an area targeted by Swanzey officials for commercial and industrial development.
The proposed route is a variation of what Liberty Utilities officials filed with the N.H. Public Utilities Commission last month.
Last month, Liberty Utilities filed a petition with the commission for rights to own and operate natural gas distribution systems in Winchester, Swanzey, Jaffrey and Rindge.
Two of the four towns — Rindge and Winchester — are along the proposed route of the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, while the other two are nearby. None of the towns have natural gas distribution systems.
According to the petition, Liberty plans to tap into the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline to supply natural gas to the towns, but would look at other options if the pipeline project is delayed or doesn’t happen.
At a meeting last week in Winchester, Licata, Clark and Richard G. MacDonald, director of gas operations and construction, presented Liberty Utilities’ plan to establish natural gas service in Winchester coming from the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline.
Liberty Utilities, which is also known in New Hampshire as EnergyNorth Natural Gas Inc., signed an agreement with Tennessee Gas Pipeline to purchase 115,000 dekatherms of natural gas per day at a fixed rate from the pipeline.
The N.H. Public Utilities Commission approved that agreement last month. The decision has since been appealed.
The Winchester presentation was met with skepticism from anti-pipeline activists, some of them town residents, who put Liberty Utilities officials on the spot about what they saw as the company having a conflict of interest because it has an unregulated affiliate investing in the pipeline project.
Liberty Utilities is a subsidiary of Algonquin Power and Utilities Corp. And Algonquin, which has its headquarters in Ontario, Canada, is participating in the development of the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline with Kinder Morgan through that company’s subsidiary, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.
Swanzey Selectman Bill Hutwelker said some town staff members met with Liberty officials last week and suggested that the company bring natural gas to Safford Drive as soon as possible.
The proposed Northeast Energy Direct project is a 30-inch diameter transmission pipeline, which would carry natural gas from shale gas fields in Pennsylvania through upstate New York, parts of northern Massachusetts and into southern New Hampshire before going to a distribution hub in eastern Massachusetts.
The route would cross about 70 miles of southern New Hampshire, including Fitzwilliam, Richmond, Rindge, Troy and Winchester and would carry up to 1.3 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. The amount could provide electricity to 886,162 households.
The proposed pipeline has met strong resistance from residents and local officials in the southwestern New Hampshire towns slated to be in its path. Their concerns range from the potential environmental and health effects the high pressure transmission pipeline could cause to concerns about the federal government taking property by eminent domain for the project.
Tennessee Gas Pipeline is in the pre-filing stages with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has the power to approve or deny the pipeline project.
Tennessee Gas Pipeline officials plan to file the full application for the project with FERC this fall. Company officials anticipate it will take a year for the pipeline to receive federal approval, if it does.
(c)2015 The Keene Sentinel (Keene, N.H.)
This article was written by Meghan Foley from The Keene Sentinel, N.H. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.