• Natural gas a good option
    July 03,2013
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    Foster Brothers Farm has always been deeply involved in the Middlebury community. Our farm is directly impacted by the Addison County gas line, both physically as well as economically.

    We have worked toward sustainability and renewable energy on our family farm for more than 30 years, with innovative and efficient lighting systems, anaerobic digestion and power production, as well as on waste recovery through our composting MooDoo business since 1992. I was a founding member of the 25-in-25 working group many years ago, which espoused the value of renewable energy with a goal that 25 percent of the energy consumed in this country would come from the agriculture and forestry community by the year 2025.

    With that as background, I fully support bringing another energy source to our community, adding to the solar, methane, biomass, propane, electricity, and oil options. While renewable energy production is expanding, it still covers less than 15 percent of our needs. With the changing climate, our adaptation strategy needs to be based on more choices, not fewer, in our energy delivery systems.

    Natural gas would provide this community with an alternative fuel, which is cleaner than the existing fuels in use and at a substantially lower cost. For example, the cost savings to the Cabot cheese plant here in Middlebury are expected to exceed $1 million annually, which could reach $3 million dollars. That is real money that goes to local dairy farmers who are Agri-Mark/Cabot cooperative members and directly helps to sustain the working landscape that we all appreciate.

    Equally important, natural gas will replace No. 6 bunker oil with a much cleaner and more environmentally-friendly fuel, substantially reducing the greenhouse gas impact. Additionally, natural gas would provide an opportunity to convert the fleets of trucks that haul the milk to the plant, as well as those that haul the cheese to storage and cut and wrap to use a cleaner, less expensive fuel and provide the community with the additional benefits of reduced greenhouse gas impacts. Down the road, much of the agricultural production equipment currently powered by diesel could be converted as well.

    This is just one of the economic activities that support this community. In addition, Porter Hospital, Middlebury College, and even homeowners and renters would be positively impacted both in lower energy costs and greenhouse gas reduction.

    I view natural gas as a transitional fuel. It bridges the years that it will take until hopefully science, technology, capital and political will make renewable fuels the predominant fuels of choice. When one is making comparisons as to societal impacts of natural gas, one has to look at the life cycle impacts of competing, traditional fuels. Several years ago, just the cost of getting the oil from offshore to make a gallon of gas was over 7 additional dollars in military activities, including protecting the shipping lanes. This does not account for costs in human lives and all that has been associated with our dependence on foreign oil.

    I believe that a natural gas system for Addison County, and eventually for Rutland County, will expand the economic benefits enjoyed in Chittenden and Franklin counties to another area of the state, which will make Vermont more secure both economically and environmentally.

    Robert Foster is one of the owners of Foster Brothers Farm in Middlebury.
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