WINCHESTER — Some Winchester residents and opponents of a proposed natural gas pipeline sought to depict a not-so-rosy picture of insider knowledge, back-door dealing and corporations teaming together to profit on the backs of rural communities during a hearing Wednesday. Liberty Utilities officials were in Winchester Wednesday to present a plan to selectmen to bring natural gas service to the town via the proposed and controversial Northeast Energy Direct pipeline.
In December, Liberty Utilities filed a petition with the N.H. Public Utilities Commission seeking approval of an agreement to buy natural gas off the proposed pipeline.
A month later, in January, the company signed a deal to purchase N.H. Gas Corp. in Keene, with plans to convert its more than 100-year-old propane-air mixture distribution system to carry compressed or liquefied natural gas.
Nine months later, Liberty Utilities filed a petition with the state Public Utilities Commission for rights to own and operate natural gas distribution systems in Winchester, Swanzey, Jaffrey and Rindge.
Two of the four towns — Rindge and Winchester — are along the proposed route of the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, while the other two are nearby. None of the towns have natural gas distribution systems.
According to the petition, Liberty plans to tap into the pipeline to supply natural gas to the towns, but would look at other options if the pipeline project is delayed or doesn’t happen.
Liberty Utilities is a subsidiary of Algonquin Power and Utilities Corp. And Algonquin, which has its headquarters in Ontario, Canada, is participating in the development of the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline with Kinder Morgan through that company’s subsidiary, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.
Liberty officials repeatedly said Wednesday the series of events leading up to the company’s filing this fall to expand natural gas service was a coincidence.
However, Michael Licata, director of government and community relations for Liberty Utilities, acknowledged — when put on the spot by Winchester Conservation Commission member John H. Hann — that a diagram being circulated by anti-pipeline activists showing Liberty Utilities having a relationship to the project was “essentially accurate that we have an unregulated affiliate with investment in the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline.”
The document, created by Susan L. Durling of the activist group Winchester Pipeline Awareness, shows Kinder Morgan and Algonquin partnering to form Northeast Expansion LLC to build and own the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, with Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. being brought in as Kinder Morgan’s subsidiary to operate it.
The diagram then shows Algonquin’s connection to Liberty Utilities, which is also known in New Hampshire as EnergyNorth Natural Gas Inc.
Liberty Utilities signed an agreement with Tennessee Gas Pipeline to purchase 115,000 dekatherms of natural gas per day at a fixed rate from the pipeline.
The N.H. Public Utilities Commission approved that agreement last month. The decision has since been appealed.
Hann noted to Licata and two other Liberty Utilities officials in attendance Wednesday that for Kinder Morgan to have its application for the pipeline approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the company must show there is a need.
“So by you contracting with Kinder Morgan, you’re enabling them to prove the need even though (Richard G. MacDonald) pointed out that there are no customers here,” he said, referencing Liberty Utilities’ director of gas operations.
Licata responded that Liberty officials would send out mailings to potential customers to gauge interest, and they understand there has to be customer interest for the N.H. Public Utilities Commission to award gas franchise rights to an area.
“We’re not coming forward with this proposal as part of a way to validate Kinder Morgan or the Northeast Energy District pipeline. It’s not about us or creating a need for a pipeline,” Licata said.
He said Liberty Utilities officials understand there is local concern and opposition to the pipeline project, and they weren’t asking selectmen, or anyone else at the meeting, to change their view on the project because of Liberty’s proposal.
“What we’re proposing here is the town get some direct benefit from the pipeline,” he said.
That would be done by installing a station where the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline intersects Richmond Road (Route 119) to depressurize the natural gas and feed it into the smaller pipe that will be part of the local distribution system, he said.
The system’s route would follow Richmond Road west to Main Street (Route 10), where it would then turn south to the intersection of Main Street, General James Reed Highway (Route 119) and Warwick Road (Route 78). Along the way, a line would branch off on Parker Street to serve that neighborhood and the school, according to a map Licata presented.
At the intersection of Routes 10, 119 and 78, the distribution pipeline would follow Warwick Road southeast and then turn onto Snow Road, ending at Applewood Rehabilitation Center, according to the map.
William J. Clark, business development professional for Liberty Utilities, said there are breaks in the map to show that it would take more than one construction season to build the local distribution system. Residents and businesses connected to the system would pay the same rates as Liberty Utilities’ natural gas customers in other parts of the state, he said.
Multiple construction seasons would also be needed to build the portion of pipeline proposed to run north along Route 10 in the N.H. Department of Transportation right-of-way from the intersection of Richmond Road and Main Street to bring natural gas to Swanzey and Keene, he said. The line, which is also being referred to as the Keene lateral, would then tie into Keene’s gas infrastructure.
The proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline is a 30-inch diameter, high-pressure line bringing natural gas from shale 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 route would cross about 70 miles of southern New Hampshire, including Fitzwilliam, Richmond, Rindge, Troy and Winchester and would carry up to 1.3 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. The amount could provide electricity to 886,162 households.
Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. is in the pre-filing stages with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has the power to approve or deny the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline.
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.
Many people attending Wednesday’s meeting were quick to pepper Liberty Utilities officials with questions about its proposal to build a natural gas distribution system in town, including how it would affect the town’s existing water and sewer infrastructure — some of which isn’t mapped — who would pay for the build-out of the system, and if town residents and business owners really want the option to tie into natural gas.
“Does Winchester or any other town have the ability to say ‘no?’ “ Conservation Commission member Bonnie G. Leveille asked.
Licata said Winchester officials and residents can voice their opposition to Liberty Utilities’ proposal to the N.H. Public Utilities Commission, but company officials would like to partner with the town on the project.
“We want to work with municipal officials on the location of the system and identify and address any concerns on the build-out,” he said.
After the presentation concluded, the four Winchester selectmen present voted unanimously to send a letter to the N.H. Public Utilities Commission about their concerns with Liberty Utilities’ proposal.
Selectman Theresa G. Sepe was absent.
Besides Winchester, Liberty Utilities officials have scheduled a presentation for next week about the expansion plans in Swanzey. That meeting will be held Tuesday at Swanzey Town Hall during the selectmen’s meeting, which begins at 6 p.m.
Licata said Wednesday that presentation dates in Jaffrey and Rindge have yet to be finalized.
Meghan Foley can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436, or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MFoleyKS.