Bruce Edwards / Staff Photo Larry Plesent of Vermont Soap Company speaks out against the proposed natural gas pipeline at his business in Middlebury. Plesent was joined Tuesday by several other business owners at the Vermont Public Interest Research Group press conference.
MIDDLEBURY — Larry Plesent says he couldn’t in good conscience support a project that harms the environment when he started a business based on using environmentally benign ingredients.
So Plesent, the CEO of Vermont Soap Company, and several other small business owners, spoke out Tuesday against Vermont Gas Systems and its plans to bring its natural gas pipeline to Middlebury and beyond.
“This is where the pedal hits the metal,” Plesent told a press conference at his Exchange Street business. “Either businesses like Vermont Soap muckle up to the plate and say, hey, we’re willing to pay a little more for cleaner energy.”
Plesent said being in business is more than just about making a profit but also being socially responsible.
Even if it’s built, he said Vermont Soap has already made the decision it would not hook into the pipeline. That may put him at a competitive disadvantage in the short term, but Plesent said in the long term sticking with buying hydro power from Green Mountain Power makes environmental and economic sense.
Plesent was joined at the Vermont Public Interest Research Group press conference by Thomas Hughes of Sunward Systems, Chuck Reiss of Reiss Building and Renovation, Randy Martin of Dewitt-Blake Insurance Agency and Rae Harrell of Rae Harrell Gallery.
They were among more than 90 small companies in Addison and Chittenden counties that have signed a letter opposing the pipeline. However, noticeably absent from the list were manufacturing companies that are energy intensive.
Opponents argue that the pipeline, carrying an undetermined amount of fracked natural gas from Canada, would further destroy the environment at a time when Vermont has made a commitment to focusing on renewable energy.
Vermont Gas Systems, which already serves Chittenden and Franklin counties, has received Public Service Board approval to extend the pipeline south to Middlebury.
The company has plans to extend the pipeline west under Lake Champlain to serve the International Paper mill in Ticonderoga, N.Y.
A third phase would extend the pipeline south to Rutland County.
Hughes, whose Shelburne company installs solar hot water systems, noted the state is on track to become 90 percent renewable energy sufficient by 2050.
But Hughes said extending the pipeline “threatens” to take the state off track. He said Vermont is No. 1 in solar jobs in the country while doubling the amount of solar energy here in the last two years.
He also cited the state’s efforts in turning cow manure into energy as well as the expansion of heat pump technology.
Martin, owner of a Cornwall insurance agency, prefaced his remarks by saying he wasn’t a “left-wing liberal who jumps on every cause.”
But he called the pipeline “wrong on so many levels, from the fact that we’re not getting off fossil fuels to taking people’s land by eminent domain.”
Martin said there’s no benefit for the majority of Vermonters. “By far the biggest benefit will be to Vermont Gas and its parent, company Gaz Metro, and to the internationally owned International Paper,” he said. “I’m not really sure that is in the public good of the majority of Vermont.”
For Harrell, allowing natural gas obtained through the fracking process flies in the face of the state banning its use in Vermont.
Supporters, including potential industrial users like the Cabot cheese and whey plant, say natural gas would help lower their energy costs and keep them competitive. And Vermont Gas Systems cites figures that at current prices make natural gas far less expensive than either fuel oil or propane. The company also argues natural gas is a cleaner burning fuel.
Reiss, CEO of the Shelburne company that builds net-zero, energy-efficient homes, called the project a “travesty” and said the Shumlin administration “should get its head out of the sand.”
Although supporters argue that natural gas is cleaner and cheaper than other fossil fuels, Reiss said natural gas is not that much cleaner and there’s no guarantee prices will stay low forever.
“I can guarantee you the sun will be cheap in 10 years,” he said.
During question-and-answer session, Reiss said he would support a move to rescind Vermont Gas Systems’ certificate of public good to serve Chittenden and Franklin counties.
Harrell, who leases space for her gallery in Hinesburg, is a Vermont Gas customer. She said if it was up to her, she would opt for another fuel source.
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