Lebanon Residents Object to Gas Company Secrecy

Submitted 2 years ago
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Press Release -- Energy & Climate Upper Valley

LEBANON, NH - Two Lebanon residents have filed a formal request with state regulators to force disclosure of information that Liberty Utilities wants to keep from the public during review of the company’s application to build a large natural gas storage facility and distribution pipeline to serve the city and neighboring Hanover.

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Ariel Arwen and Jonathan Chaffee are representing themselves as citizen “intervenors” before the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in proceedings that will determine whether the state will grant Liberty Utilities a monopoly franchise to distribute natural gas in Lebanon and Hanover.  The area is currently not served by a pipeline system.  Liberty proposes to truck liquefied natural gas (LNG) and compressed natural gas (CNG) to a storage facility near the Lebanon landfill on Route 12-A.  LNG would be stored in four 60,000 gallon tanks and CNG would be stored in separate containers at a pressure of about 3,600 pounds per square inch.  The company proposes to build an 11-mile pipeline system, following public rights-of-way, to distribute the gas to large commercial and institutional customers and some residences.

Last week, Arwen and Chaffee filed an objection with the PUC to Liberty’s motion for confidential treatment of certain information that the company claims is “proprietary, non-public, and commercially sensitive”.  A day later the Office of the Consumer Advocate, a department charged with representing the interests of rate payers before the PUC, weighed in with a letter to the commission in support of Arwen and Chafee’s objection.

The objection disputes many of Liberty’s claims and cites several instances where information that is redacted in documents the company has filed in the case is already in the public domain.  Arwen points to a table in one document that names ten large potential customers, including Dartmouth College, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Kleen Laundry, but blacks out current fuel and projected gas usage.  “That information shouldn’t be redacted,” she said.  “Much of it is already publicly available.”  For, example, she says, Dartmouth’s web site identifies the fuel it currently uses at its heating plant, about 3.8 million gallons of #6 fuel oil annually.  Likewise, DHMC’s and Kleen’s fuel usage are known from records on file with the PUC.  In fact, she points out, some of the information blacked out in one part of a Liberty document is revealed elsewhere in the same document.  “It’s confounding,” she said. “What’s at stake is having information so that town officials and community members in Lebanon and Hanover can assess this proceeding, ask informed questions and frame informed responses.”

Chaffee points to another concern.  Liberty hired a consulting company to conduct a “fatal flaw” analysis of the project storage site that, according to documents filed by the company, “included thermal and vapor modeling utilizing four 60,000 gallon tanks”. Liberty has asked the PUC to withhold from public view a document that contains the analysis because “disclosure may publicize the Company’s planned infrastructure.”  Chaffee says that justification is unacceptable.  “How can we have any confidence in a process that keeps information related to public safety hidden from the public?”, he asked. 

Though intervening independently of the City Council-appointed Lebanon Energy Advisory Committee (LEAC), Arwen is a member of that committee and Chaffee is an alternate member. Supporting the sustainability goals of that committee as well as those cited in the City’s Master Plan provided a major impetus for their intervention. Similarly, Arwen points out that the public has shown considerable interest, and mounting opposition, to the project. “People are particularly concerned that this project could lead customers to invest in fossil fuel heating equipment that will soon be a regretted choice as more efficient and cheaper renewable energy sources become available. Run-away climate change is impacting us in a 20-year time frame, and this proposed investment in new fossil fuel infrastructure depreciates over 50 years. It does not fit. Citizens in Lebanon and Hanover are seriously focusing on how we can move quickly to sustainable energy sources. Potential customers should not lock themselves for many years to come into using a dangerous fossil fuel which has been shown to have no ameliorating effects regarding climate, and whose pricing over the coming decades is projected to be volatile.”

Noting that the gas brought to the Upper Valley will almost certainly be extracted through hydraulic fracturing, Chaffee adds, “People are particularly tuned in to the fact that fracking poisons water supplies. Scientific research shows increased incidences of serious, long-term health problems among people living near the gas wells.”

All currently-public documents related to Liberty Utilities’ petition for a gas franchise in Lebanon and Hanover can be found at the PUC’s web site: http://www.puc.state.nh.us/Regulatory/Docketbk/2016/16-852.html

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