(Wilton Villager) Sen. Boucher, State and Local Officials Introduce Money-Saving Natural Gas Line

August 13, 2014

Article as it appeared in the Wilton Villager

WILTON — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy added a definitive and authoritative air to Monday’s ceremony at Town Hall to launch the start of a large-scale natural gas expansion project through the town.

Wilton becomes the first community in the state to partner with a utility through Malloy’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy, which calls for an expansion of Connecticut’s natural gas distribution system to provide more residents and businesses with the opportunity to choose natural gas.

“We created our state’s first-ever Comprehensive Energy Strategy with the goal of providing cleaner, cheaper and more reliable energy to Connecticut’s residents,” Malloy said. “Today’s announcement in Wilton is doing just that — reducing energy costs while creating construction jobs in the short-term and putting into place the infrastructure to support a growing economy that leads to long-term job growth.”

In Wilton, the plan is expected to save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in energy costs for schools and other government buildings, in addition to being available for private residential and business use.

The Wilton gas expansion project involves the installation of a three-and-a-half-mile underground pipeline along existing roads to connect natural gas to Wilton’s downtown business district, municipal buildings, the Middlebrook, Comstock and Cider Mill schools, the Comstock Community Center, and Wilton High School.

Wilton’s Energy Commission estimates that by converting to natural gas, the town will save approximately $500,000 annually in energy costs.

“Here in Wilton, we are turning our vision for expanded use of natural gas into a reality,” said Robert Klee, commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “We are also making similar progress in implementing other components of the governor’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy. We have doubled funding for popular and cost-effective energy efficiency programs; increased by 10-fold the amount of renewable energy we are generating in state; committed to the procurement of 270 megawatts of power from grid-scale wind and solar projects; and built out a system of charging stations to encourage the use of electric vehicles.”

Weather permitting, Yankee Gas will have construction crews working 12 hours a day over the next several months to complete the project in a timely manner.

Work will take place at multiple sites along the route until the project is completed. Initial construction areas include the high school, the downtown business district, and Wolfpit Road in an effort to avoid congestion.

“Truly this is an exciting and extraordinary event here this morning,” said Tom May, chairman, president and CEO of Northeast Utilities. “This is an historic groundbreaking. The governor had the foresight to enact the first Comprehensive Energy Strategy, and it will allow the last mile of pipe to bring clean energy to the residents of Connecticut. We have plenty of sources of abundant natural gas to our west. This wouldn’t be possible without collaboration of the legislature, the state house, and the utilities. They all recognized the benefits environmentally and economically of natural gas. I know (Wilton) will be the first of many Connecticut towns to take advantage of the governor’s plan.”

First Selectman Bill Brennan appreciated all the local help, and knows this plan will pay off decades down the road.

“This is a significant opportunity for the Town of Wilton to achieve energy savings,” Brennan said. “This is a big day for Wilton. A 25-year payback is a big deal.”

Sen. Bob Duff, D-25, has been involved with this project since the beginning.

“As the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, today we put in play what we’ve done in the legislature,” Duff said. “This puts policy in practice. This plan is going to lower costs for consumers. Wilton is one town, and we want to see this project in place for more and more places. We want to get 280,000 more people hooked up to natural gas. This plan will help our own economy prosper long-term.”

Malloy hit that point as well, calling the state “underserved” as far as natural gas service is concerned.

“Natural gas is one-half to one-third the price of oil,” Malloy said. “Not so far from where I grew up in Stamford — in New Jersey — there’s a 71-percent penetration rate (for natural gas), and the average in the United States is 53 percent.

In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, it’s 47 and 48 percent. If we want to be competitive for jobs, and keep taxes lower, we have to be competitive on energy by bringing the right fuels, and mixture of fuels, to Connecticut. We want 280,000 more (natural gas) customers. We want to drive energy prices down and give the state a cleaner energy source.”

Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-143, is impressed with her town’s forward thinking.

“This is really good news for Wilton,” Lavielle said. “I’m glad Wilton is at the forefront, and the whole energy policy is something I supported, particularly a pipeline that we build for a long time. We got it through. This will help businesses in Wilton Center, and it will help taxpayers because it will help the town save money. It’s good for everyone. Yankee Gas has been a great partner. The town deserves this. The Selectmen have been great.”

Rep. Toni Boucher, R-26, already has anecdotal evidence to support the project — even during work disruption.

“I was at my dry cleaners on River Road, and there is a pile of dirt in front of the store,” Boucher said. “The owner said, as long as it doesn’t last too long, and eventually lowers taxes, they support it. We’re very, very happy. The school system can take advantage of this. It’s a great opportunity for everybody on both sides of the political aisle. It’s non-partisan. Credit goes to Bill Brennan. He saw a great need, and we almost lost the project three years ago, but Bill and others found solutions. We’re the first to embark on this journey. I get asked by constituents in neighboring towns, why? Why not us?”

In addition to addressing a variety of topics concerning energy consumption and costs, Malloy’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy, which received legislative approval, calls for providing consumers with more options in how they heat their homes and businesses.

One of those options is making a lower-cost natural gas option available to hundreds of thousands of residents, and 75 percent of businesses, in the next seven years.

Although lost on at least half of the 100 or so people gathered Monday, several people got a smile from the Mason Williams instrumental classic “Classical Gas” being repeatedly played over the public address system before and after the spoken portion of the event.