Finance chair to Yankee Gas: Lay off the weed, the plan won’t fly

Board of Finance Chairman Warren Serenbetz offered a blunt opinion of a  presentation by Yankee Gas at a special Board of Selectmen meeting Tuesday.

“I think you’re smoking weed,” he said.

During the meeting, a representative of the company, vice president of gas operations Paul Zohorsky, said his company could no longer hold to a July start-date due to a change in state regulations which took hold in November.

He was nonetheless positive a plan to move six miles of gas line into Wilton still had potential.

“In the past we were a little optimistic on the revenue side, and a little ambitious on the cost side, and now we have to rationalize that. [The question is] how do we get the right revenue model and the right cost model? Its been slow,” he said.

According to new PURA requirements released in November, gas companies are required to have 60% of their total projected customers under contract before construction can begin on any project.

As of last night, Mr. Zohorsky told Board of Finance member Richard Creeth the likely commitments available under the proposed route and plan are “probably closer to 30%.”

As is such, the company is now reviewing the proposed installation plan, and is considering lengthening it to reach The Greens at Cannondale building, and the Wilton Y building. Both of these buildings require distributed generation, which Mr. Zohorsky said could be the project’s “saving grace.”

“Its a combination of us settling on a route, and getting contingencies and other costs out. At the same time we have to see what we can do from a revenue side. How we can get loads in,” Mr. Zohorsky said.

However, Mr. Serenbetz challenged the company’s assesment that gas has a chance in town.

“You’re never going to get gas in here. From where you are starting to where you are going, I don’t think there is sufficient demand. Why go ahead with this?” he asked.

Under previous regulations and their related economic models, gas consumed by school and municipal buildings in the area of Wilton High School provided a large enough incentive for PURA to approve WIlton’s natural gas plans, Mr. Zohorsky said.

With PURA’s new 60% contact requirement, the company has now been forced back to the drawing table to try and find a path through town the community supports, and is economically viable.

“We don’t want a project that goes forward and falls on its face,” Mr. Zohorsky said. “We’ve taken a retrenchment since I’ve been engaged. I said let’s look at this, and make sure we proceed in a judicious way.”

Wilton Energy Commission Chair Bruce Hampson expressed disappointment in the efforts taken so far by Yankee Gas.

“I am confounded you have known since September there was a [60%] portfolio requirement, and you have not signed up a single customer.”

Regardless of his optimism, the Yankee Gas representative was hesitant to advise Mr. Hampson whether or not the town should plan on installing natural gas-burning boilers in buildings requiring new heating systems.

“I won’t tell you what you need to do there,” Mr. Zohorsky said.

First Selectman Bill Brennan ended the meeting calmly, asking residents and members of the town government to “hang in here all together,” but also said “we’ve got to have some idea of a timeline and get a decision of whether this project is a ‘go’ or a ‘no-go.’”