The Wyoming County Commissioners met with representatives from the Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce and the Northern Tier Regional and Planning Development Commission on Monday to discuss the possibility of supporting a proposal from UGI to establish a natural gas pipeline in Tunkhannock.
Commissioners Tom Henry and Judy Mead spoke at length with Chamber President Gina Suydam and Economic and the NTRPDC’s Program Manager Rachel Hauser, attempting to determine it there is a way the county can provide financial support for the project. Also in attendance was County Planner Lynelle Welch.
Commissioner Ron Williams was absent from the work session which was postponed from last Thursday.
Suydam explained during the meeting that UGI approached the chamber about three years ago with the possibility of obtaining grants from various sources to help fund the pipeline project.
The reason UGI cannot fund the entire project itself, Suydam explained, is because guidelines set down by the Public Utility Commission require the cost cannot exceed more than $10,000 per anticipated customer.
UGI anticipates that 700 new customers will be added through the program, which means the company cannot spend more than $7 million to fund the project.
According to information obtained from UGI’s website, the estimated cost of the pipeline project is $15,000 per customer.
UGI must find the addition money through outside sources in order to make up the cost.
Henry was extremely enthusiastic about the idea of natural gas being made available in Tunkhannock.
“We’re the biggest natural gas producer and we can’t even use it. How silly is that?” he asked during the meeting.
Initially, the commissioners intended to revive the county’s Industrial Development Authority to oversee the program.
However, county solicitor Paul Litwin informed the commissioners that they can handle matter themselves.
The first hurdle in obtaining approximately $110,000 is to have an engineering study performed to determine exactly where the pipeline would be installed. Henry asked Litwin about the possibility of the county using its Act 13 money - the severance fee paid by natural gas companies to the counties where they drill for wells - to cover the cost.
Litwin said he is uncertain if the county could legally use the money for such a project, but would investigate the matter further and provide an answer at a later date.
Henry said he does not want to use any other county money for the project.
Mead said that the idea is a practical one, because they would be using gas money to develop natural gas use in the area.
Suydam informed the rest of the group that if the county cannot use Act 13 money, she will explore other areas to obtain the necessary funding.
She also said that she had been speaking to Don Brominski, Director of Business Development at UGI Utilities, who informed her that another county had used its Act 13 money to pay for a similar project.
Henry said they would find out the name of the other county and contact them to determine how they handled the situation.
She also said that the State Department of Economic and Community Development might be a source of money, but there is a catch. The DCED is primarily interested in how bringing natural gas into the area would stimulate industrial development in the area.
UGI wants to build a pipeline in the area to attract residential customers.
However, Henry noted that Gary Toczko, owner of Nimble Hill Winery, is in the process of constructing a brewery in the area, which would definitely benefit from having natural gas available.
He said that perhaps the DCED would consider that sufficient to provide a grant to support the pipeline project.
Henry also said that making natural gas available would have a great benefit to the community as a whole.
He pointed out that the Tunkhannock Area High School uses electric heat, at an extremely high cost to the district, and is certain the cost would be reduced if it could convert to natural gas.
Mead concurred, saying the courthouse renovation program specified that the heating system could be easily converted to natural gas when it becomes available.