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Company proposes expanding natural gas service to 4 local towns

A utility company is seeking to expand its natural gas distribution system to four Cheshire County towns on, or abutting, the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline route.

And while some view the move as an opportunity to boost the region’s economic development, it’s not sitting well with those opposed to the pipeline.

“I really think this just gives the pipeline another strong reason to come through unfortunately,” Winchester Selectmen Chairman Roberta A. Fraser said. “We are opposed to the pipeline. It’s not good news for us, but we’ll work with what we have to do.”

Liberty Utilities, which is also known in New Hampshire as EnergyNorth Natural Gas Inc., has submitted a petition to the state Public Utilities Commission asking its members to approve a gas franchise covering Jaffrey, Rindge, Swanzey and Winchester.

The approval is needed for Liberty Utilities to build, own and operate natural gas distribution systems in those towns, which now don’t have access to such systems.

Move keeps options open

Liberty Utilities plans to tap into the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline to provide natural gas to the four towns. But company officials say in the petition that they’re requesting the natural gas franchise rights for the communities regardless if the pipeline is built.

Liberty Utilities filed the Oct. 9 petition about a week after the Public Utilities Commission approved an agreement between Liberty Utilities and the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. allowing Liberty to buy natural gas off the proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline.

William J. Clark, a business development professional for Liberty Utilities, referenced the decision in testimony to the state commission, saying that the plan is to supply the four towns with natural gas from the pipeline.

However, Liberty Utilities would look at the options of serving communities with liquefied natural gas (LNG) and compressed natural gas (CNG), if the pipeline is delayed or not built, he said.

Liberty Utilities has 1,250 customers in Keene connected to a propane-air mixture distribution system, according to its petition.

If the pipeline isn’t approved, company officials would analyze converting that Keene system to liquefied or compressed natural gas and extending it south to Swanzey and Winchester, Clark said.

Liberty Utilities “would also evaluate the possibility of serving Rindge and Jaffrey with LNG and CNG,” he said.

Related: City signs contracts for natural gas to run power plant

Signs of a Keene lateral

Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. LLC, a Kinder Morgan company, is proposing the 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 pipeline’s proposed route has it crossing about 70 miles of southern New Hampshire, including Fitzwilliam, Richmond, Rindge, Troy and Winchester, and carrying up to 2.2 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas. The amount is equivalent to providing electricity for 1.5 million households.

The pipeline is still in the pre-filing stages with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has the power to approve or deny the 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.

In its Oct. 9 petition, Liberty Utilities’ officials wrote that Jaffrey, Rindge, Swanzey and Winchester have a total of about 8,530 single- and multi-family homes. There are also commercial centers along the state highways in those towns, the petition said.

“By approving this Petition, the Commission will be creating opportunities for economic development and cost savings for both existing and new commercial and residential customers in these towns,” company officials wrote in the petition.

Liberty Utilities is a subsidiary of Algonquin Power and Utilities Corp, a company that has its headquarters in Canada and is participating in the development of the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline with Kinder Morgan.

In his testimony, Clark said the route of the distribution system for Swanzey and Winchester would start in Winchester, where Liberty Utilities’ line would connect to the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline. The system would then extend north into Swanzey and connect to Liberty Utilities’ distribution system in Keene.

That would be done by extending gas mains along Routes 10 and 12 from the Keene system, which would be converted from its current propane-air mixture to natural gas at the same time as the expansion is being done, Clark said.

What Clark described matches what Liberty Utilities’ officials have proposed as the Keene Lateral, a line that would branch off the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline to provide natural gas to Liberty Utilities’ customers in Keene.

Liberty Utilities’ officials were unavailable for comment by press time this morning.

Out of loop

Included with Clark’s testimony were maps of the proposed route Liberty Utilities’ natural gas distribution systems would follow in each town (see related sidebar), as well as estimated expansion costs.

The Winchester project’s estimated cost is $1.3 million.

Richard Horton, chairman of the Winchester School Board, said Liberty Utilities filing the petition for a gas franchise is “purely a way to show there is some sort of need for it.

“I can tell you from the school’s aspect, we don’t have a need for natural gas. We have a need for conserving energy, but not a need or desire for natural gas,” he said.

The school board has publicly taken a stance against the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline.

Horton added that the filing so soon after the N.H. Public Utilities Commission approved the agreement between Liberty Utilities and Tennessee Gas Pipeline — and with no notice to residents in the affected communities — is pretty consistent with how things have been happening recently with the pipeline.

Swanzey selectmen learned at Tuesday’s board meeting of Liberty Utilities’ proposal, and that company officials want to schedule public presentations in each of the four towns included in the requested gas franchise.

Selectmen Chairman Deborah J. Davis said Wednesday she hadn’t given the proposal much thought since the meeting. But board members plan to schedule Liberty Utilities for a presentation to residents, business owners and town officials.

“It has potential, maybe, but I think it’s too early to tell,” she said. “We’d have to find out more specifics.”

Liberty Utilities’ officials estimate the Swanzey expansion could cost $990,146 along Route 10, and about $1.1 million along Route 12.

Rindge Selectmen Chairman Robert Hamilton described Liberty Utilities’ proposal to expand natural gas service into Jaffrey, Rindge, Swanzey and Winchester as a “deflection of the NED pipeline.”

“I’ve read over the petition, and I have a multitude of questions,” he said.

Two, he said, are whether the town has any say in the franchise agreement, and whether Liberty Utilities is willing to dedicate its funds to providing natural gas for the entire town.

“It’s a very minuscule area of town they would be providing gas to,” he said.

This article was written by Meghan Foley from The Keene Sentinel, N.H. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.