In the long run, expanding natural gas up Wolfpit Road may not cost Wilton anything at all.
But in the short term, it’s slated to cost about $300,000.
While this may seem contradictory, the cost of expanding natural gas to the Miller-Driscoll School is different from the net cost of expansion, First Selectman Bill Brennan said Tuesday.
A conservative five-year net cost estimate for the project — taking into account the price of expanding natural gas lines, the removal of costs associated with oil boilers at Miller-Driscoll, and year-over-year energy savings associated with natural gas — shows the town will spend $300,000 on the project, but will save $372,000 compared to remaining with oil.
“We’re avoiding the above-ground oil tanks” and other ancillary costs associated with oil by moving to natural gas, Brennan said. “It’s the plumbing, the installation, the crane, the trenching, and the backfill that all adds up. Even the tank by itself would be $80,000.”
Pairing these savings with the most conservative energy-savings estimates, the town stands to recoup all expansion expenses by 2020 and even save $72,000 more than was spent.
Now that the economics of the project seem to make sense, Brennan said, timing is of the utmost importance.
“We’re very excited to begin. When the Sisters of Notre Dame found out they couldn’t make the decision [to expand natural gas into their campus], I thought the project was dead,” Brennan said.
If the sisters had stayed on board with the plan, no town contribution would have been required.
“But we persisted with Eversource. Now they’re looking at other projects, so my concern is” whether the town will be able to fit into their schedule, Brennan said.
If the Board of Selectmen and Board of Education make positive decisions by the end of April, he said, the project should be set to begin on June 15. The project would be completed by Aug. 15.
The initial town investment into the project would be $160,000 in 2015 and $40,000 in 2016. These costs would be paid as capital investments.
The remaining $100,000 contribution would be spread out over four years, as is allowed by the Public Utility Regulatory Agency (PURA), and would be paid by the Board of Education as an operating expense.
As an added bonus, Brennan said, the installation of natural gas to Miller-Driscoll opens the possibility of it qualifying for a Connecticut energy-efficiency grant.
The grant requires the town to “reach certain levels” of efficiency in the design of the building.
“Only if we use gas can we get there,” Brennan said.
The difference between this project and a recent project to expand natural gas into Wilton Center — which did not require a contribution from the town — is the volume of gas expected to be used by buildings attached to the gas lines.
“It’s the volume of the gas use that generates whether you have to add a contribution. We’re fortunate the initial project was able to go through without a contribution, but they do it by their model. They pump their numbers in, and that’s it,” Brennan said, referring to Eversource.
He also referenced conversations with New Canaan First Selectman Robert Mallozzi, who told Brennan he is being told “the same story.”
If the Sisters of Notre Dame make a decision to convert to natural gas in the future, the contribution from the town will not be refunded, Brennan said, because PURA does not allow such agreements.
Residents of Wolfpit Road, and the roads that connect to it, will have the chance to convert to natural gas after the lines are expanded, Brennan said.
“If you have a house, Eversource will bring a lateral pipe to feed into your home. And you’ll have to convert your oil burner,” he said.
“If I knew I was going to be here for 25 more years, I would definitely convert,” he said. “The long-range forecasts continue to favor natural gas over oil. Oil prices will recover.”
Brennan added that the town’s next hope for gas expansion would bring new pipelines down Route 7 so the town hall complex could be converted for use with gas.
“It would be expensive” to go down a state road like Route 7, Brennan said, because the state requires re-paving and not patching of trenches.
“However, there’s a way of doing it without having to go into the actual road itself,” he said. “The future project will have to proceed on its own merits.”