Consultant Says Investors Are Lining Up For Vernon Natural Gas Plant

Nov 19, 2015

As Vernon continues to head toward a referendum on siting a natural gas power plant in town, investors with serious money are waiting to see how the vote turns out.

If a natural gas power plant is built in Vernon it's going to take between $10 million and $12 million just to do the planning and preliminary work, and if the project doesn't move forward, for whatever reason, that money could be lost.

Don Campbell, who lives in Winhall, has worked for more than 20 years as an investment banker, and consultant, with the utility and energy industries. And he says he's got investors waiting to move ahead.

"There are a number of private equity investors that clearly understand, and look out four years," Campbell says. "And yeah, there is support there. And we will look at investing serious money, on spec, to develop this plant."

Campbell, who has been meeting with Vernon officials for more than a year, was talking last week after a public information hearing, where the Planning Commission gave a presentation.

The total project will cost about $750 million, and during construction the project could bring up to 600 jobs to the region.

If the plant is approved and developed, fewer than 30 people will work at the facility - a fraction of the approximately 650 people who worked at Vermont Yankee when it was running at full capacity.

If the plant is approved and developed, fewer than 30 people will work at the facility — a fraction of the approximately 650 people who worked at Vermont Yankee when it was running at full capacity.

But a $750 million power plant that is producing electricity would make a significant impact on the Vernon  tax roles, and officials will be working in the next few months to convince as many people in town that this is the right project for Vernon.

Kinder Morgan wants to build a new pipeline from the Marcellus shale fields in Pennsylvania into New England, and it's going to run within seven miles of Vernon.

Kinder Morgan will be applying for a FERC permit this month for its 420-mile pipeline which will run from Pennsylvania into southern New Hampshire and western Massachusetts.
Credit Kinder Morgan

Campbell is talking about a once-in-a-generation project to build a power plant that could ultimately produce up to 700 megawatts, which is more energy than what Vermont Yankee produced at the height of its power production.

At a Planning Commission meeting this week he said Vernon was first in line because of the massive electric infrastructure in place near VY.

Campbell has been stressing the need for additional power generation in the region. Older nuclear, coal and oil plants are closing and there is push for developing new plants.

"Yeah, there is support there. And we will look at investing serious money, on spec, to develop this plant." - Don Campbell, utility and energy industries consultant

So he says that while his investors are patient, it was in the town's best interest to make a decision soon.

"Here's the one thing that you want to be sensitive to," Campbell says. "I think if it goes longer than three months, there are other people that will look to do this, and will look to try to get in the New England ISO queue. And as it's been expressed to me, it would be, quote, ours to lose."

One of the big questions that remain unanswered is where the plant would be located.

Campbell says he will try to get a better idea of where the plant might be located in time for the town-wide vote.  

Vernon is considered a prime spot for a natural gas power plant because of the massive electric infrastructure near the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / vpr

Vernon officials are still trying to figure out if they will call a special meeting or hold a vote on Town Meeting day.

The vote will ultimately be non-binding, but Campbell says investors do want to know if there is support for the project, and they would likely not move forward if there is significant opposition in town.

Kinder Morgan will file its certificate application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this week.

If the company receives federal approval to build the pipeline, it could be transporting natural gas to the region by the end of 2018. The Vernon power plant, which would require state approval, could be online by 2020.