first_imgVermont Gas Systems Inc,by John Herrick is external) Regulators want to reopen an approved permit for a natural gas pipeline project through Addison County due to an escalation in cost estimates. The Public Service Board will seek a remand from the Vermont Supreme Court for a state permit it approved in December for a 41-mile pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury. The permit is also under appeal by a Monkton landowner.The board said the latest cost estimate to build the project — $154 million, up from the original $86 million — is sufficiently large to warrant further investigation. The Department of Public Service, which represent ratepayers, also wants to reconsider the costs and benefits of the pipeline.The board plans to file the request for a second remand with the high court Friday, according to last week’s order. The board could revoke, change or leave untouched the project’s permit. In the order, the board denied requests by landowners to halt constructionVermont Gas spokeswoman Beth Parent said the company supports the board’s decision to request a remand.Site work being done last fall in Williston for the VGS pipeline. VBM photoOn July 2, Vermont Gas announced a 40 percent cost increase(link is external) to build the pipeline. Pipeline opponents called on regulators to reconsider the company’s state permit, aiming to alter the project or stop it altogether. They argue that air source heat pumps will reduce residential demand for natural gas. They also cast doubt on the credibility of the company’s cost estimates.The Public Service Board then received a remand from the state Supreme Court and held a hearing on the case, but was not convinced by opponents. On Oct.10, the board decided the project was still good for the state, leaving the permit unchanged in light of the cost increase. The Department of Public Service said at the time the project was still a good deal(link is external) for the state.On December 19, the company announced a 27 percent increase(link is external) in the cost of the project to a total of $154 million. Construction costs (link is external)were the principal reason for the increase, and the company still has contracts out to bid at a time when construction is in high demand, it said.The company says its latest cost estimates use different cost categories than previous estimates. The company says it is impossible to directly compare certain original and current budget items. Parent said the change was made because the company is now using industry standard cost-estimate methods.Pipeline opponents again want the project to be reconsidered. They argue heat pumps have continued to grow and oil prices have dropped — together offsetting potential customers and therefore chipping away at the benefits of the project. They also are concerned the cost estimates need greater scrutiny. The Department of Public Service wants to take a closer look now at the costs and benefits of the project.Vermont Gas, argues the project is still a win for the state. Since the last remand, the company released a report detailing hundreds of jobs associated with the project. It has also said that, despite low oil prices, the project still generates nearly $175 million in energy savings over 20 years.The company also said the board could review the new cost estimates without a remand.PHOTO: Members of the Vermont Public Service Board, from left Margaret Cheney, James Volz and John Burke. Photo by John Herrick/VTDiggerlast_img read more