The town’s highest elected official on Monday night said he’s poised to sign an agreement that will bring natural gas to New Canaan public buildings, businesses and some homes, signaling the introduction in earnest of a widely anticipated energy source following years of stop-and-go efforts.
First Selectman Rob Mallozzi and representatives from Eversource unveiled a plan to bring a 4.7 mile “trunk line” up Route 106 from Stamford to serve New Canaan High School, South School, Saxe Middle School, the YMCA and Waveny Care Center, as well as East School, in 2018.
After that, Eversource’s program manager for gas expansions, Chris Luca, told members of the Utilities Commission at their regular meeting, the company in 2019 will lay an additional five miles of lines to bring natural gas to residences along the South Avenue corridor, from Farm Road toward the downtown. Additionally, Eversource will offer natural gas to residences where it makes sense along the route to East School—the proposed route calls for a line to run down Harrison and then up Main and along Lakeview to the school.
And then in 2020, the natural gas line build-out will come to the business district, Luca said.
According to Mallozzi, during talks with Eversource that re-started in March, the utility proposed a wider proliferation of natural gas in New Canaan than what had been discussed in scuttled talks from past years.
“That was one thing that was very encouraging when we were sitting down with these folks, was to see the breadth of their expansion was greater than when we spoke in 2013, ’14, ’15,” Mallozzi told members of the Utilities Commission at their regular meeting, held in Town Hall. A handful of representatives from Eversource attended.
“It gave me encouragement that they were going to absolutely have a better chance of getting to the downtown and some of the neighborhoods closer to our [downtown] because they were extending their initial line that much farther,” Mallozzi said.
The commission voted 4-0 in support of a Memorandum of Understanding that is to be signed at Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting. Chairman Tom Tesluk, Secretary JoAnne Kennedy, Dan Welch and Bob Clay voted in favor of the measure. Commissioners Derek Bennett and Wade Eyerly were absent.
Luca said that Eversource now has 25 years—rather than 15, as in the past—to recover capital expenses it incurs by installing the infrastructure needed for natural gas expansions. In working with towns throughout the state, Luca said, Eversource has “done many things on our end” to reduce costs, including “streamlined processed on the construction side of the equation.”
“Fortunately between Rob [Mallozzi] and [Department of Public Works Director] Tiger [Mann], we have gotten to a great space where we believe that the cost profile has less risk based on their conceptions,” Luca said. “And let me assure you it is not the town’s folks at risk in any way—in fact, the tax revenue generated makes this tax-flow-positive for the town, not to mention the savings in fuel savings. So we are excited. We really are. We have been doing this for some time now and we’re very confident.”
Asked by Tesluk whether Eversource by the end of 2018 expects to have the large buildings in service or just lines close to them, Luca said “lines in front of them.”
The utility still needs to have conversations with the Board of Education, YMCA and Waveny Care Center, he said.
The residential neighborhoods will come in as a separate project working off of the main “trunk” line, Luca said.
“The economics still need to work for the neighborhood project,” he said.
“In the past, it was treated as a single relationship between the gas company and the end user. In this case we are able to pool everybody up to one project. So we are able to take the revenue from all the homes and layer it up into one project such that it offsets the capital costs. But there is a certain level subscription we need.”
The plans mark a major step forward for the prospect of natural gas in New Canaan.
Members of the Utilities Commission in April disclosed that Eversource had restarted conversations about bringing natural gas to New Canaan—a tantalizing development for many who have wanted the energy source for the town.
Representatives from utility and town officials have presented different versions of events in the past, though renewed efforts to bring natural gas to New Canaan—after plans had stalled through a period of three-plus years—have been marked by a spirit of cooperation.
Mallozzi noted that talks in the past “went off and on” and were “sometimes fruitful and sometimes not,” and said that talks re-started after officials last year raised the possibility of bringing propane into the public schools.
Since March, the team at Eversource has been “incredibly responsive” to New Canaan’s leaders, Mallozzi said.
“They totally seemed to understand our concerns,” he said. “I think the fact that you folks had some history behind you and had done a bunch of these projects was really to our benefit. I think when we first started talking we would have been, quite frankly, the guinea pig for the gas company. And they had it all buttoned up.”
Commissioners asked about the feasibility of getting natural gas to downtown New Canaan (there are some hurdles with any individual property owners involved but those conversations will start well ahead of 2020), what would limit residential access off of the trunk line (density of homes as well as customer interest), just where the lines will run (in the roadway because many residences have Belgian block and other special-made driveways), whether conduit would be laid simultaneously (no, because that just creates space for gas travel in the event of a leak) and what is Eversource’s marketing strategy to prospective homes (a community forum).
Mallozzi said the Utilities Commission likely would help organize a public forum for Eversource to explain its installation strategy and kickstart communications with those homeowners and commercial property owners for whom natural gas will be an option and who are interested in getting it.