• Churches have big decision on district energy
     | January 10,2013

    MONTPELIER — City churches are evaluating or finalizing commitments to the district energy project, working around a city construction schedule and within their own governing bodies.

    Some churches are wrestling with connection costs much higher than for businesses along the planned heat pipeline’s main corridor.

    Because Christ Episcopal Church on State Street has a historic cemetery, the hookup cost is around $65,000, and St. Augustine Church has expressed interest but would face a $90,000 connection cost, according to the city’s planning and community development director, Gwendolyn Hallsmith.

    Startup costs for other customers roughly range from $14,000 to $30,000, Hallsmith said Wednesday.

    The pipeline will start at a power plant the state will build behind the Department of Motor Vehicles building on State Street and extend along State and Main streets.

    The city plans to begin construction later this year, which will require digging up streets to hook up businesses, government buildings and other customers. City officials hope the plant will be operational by October, delivering heat and hot water to buildings in the city.

    “(We’re) actively considering it,” the Rev. Paul Habersang, of Christ Church, said Wednesday, adding that a decision could be reached in early February.

    It’s not unusual for customers to recoup their connection costs in five to seven years, Hallsmith said.

    Bethany Church is expected to sign an agreement today to hook up to the line, and Christ Church has requested the city order pipes for its property but has agreed to pay $5,000 if it doesn’t commit and if the city can’t reuse a pipe order, City Manager William Fraser said Wednesday.

    The city’s contractor hopes to order the pipes for the system Tuesday, but the deadline is somewhat flexible, Fraser said. The ordering and manufacturing of the pipes, however, need to be done several months in advance, he said.

    Despite some of the initial costs, the service is meant to stabilize customers’ heating costs in the long run.

    “They’ll know that’s what they’re going to pay for 20 years. They’re not going to be faced with the erratic fossil fuel (prices),” Hallsmith said.

    The city determined in the summer that the Unitarian Church of Montpelier would not be likely to participate in the initial phase of the project. Church officials said Wednesday they’re interested but have reservations about future costs.

    “We have a letter of intent. We would very much like to be part of this system,” said the chairman of the church’s Property Committee, Paul Ohlson, on Wednesday. “It’s a business decision for sure.”

    Hallsmith and a consultant for the city will fly to Colorado for two days of meetings Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 with U.S. Energy Department staffers.

    An $8 million U.S. Energy Department grant is helping with Montpelier’s project, and recipients of such grants typically meet once or twice with federal officials to review progress on the projects. The grant will cover the pair’s travel expenses, Hallsmith said.

    City officials say projections for the energy project’s current setup show the city will bring in revenue, relying significantly on private-sector customers.

    david.taube @timesargus.com

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