Legislation designed to expand gas use

Two state lawmakers introduced legislation Tuesday that could help get the region’s abundant supplies of natural gas into more schools, hospitals, small businesses and houses.

“We’re sitting on one of the largest deposits of natural gas in the world and don’t have access to it,” said state Sen. E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, at a news conference at the Pennsylvania College of Technology.

Joining Yaw was Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, both of whom sponsored Senate bills 738 and 739, which create systems for extension of natural gas service by expansion of natural gas distribution systems.

“You’re fortunate to have access to the abundant resource of the Marcellus Shale formation,” Pileggi said.

Natural gas is about one-fourth the cost of gasoline, the legislators said. The anticipated time it takes a homeowner to see savings from the investment for the conversion is about three to five years, according to the legislators.

“The savings is just tremendous,” Yaw said.

Yaw said he can envision the bill helping to expand service into residential neighborhoods, but it would be the homeowners’ responsibility to pay the costs for getting the gas from the curb into their home.

“There is widespread interest in seeing locally-produced natural gas used locally to benefit our area businesses and homeowners, but also to increase its use across the state,” Yaw said.

Senate Bill 738, or The Natural Gas Consumer Access Act, sets up rules for utilities that distribute natural gas, and Senate Bill 739, amends the Alternative Energy Investment Act to provide $15 million for grants to schools, hospitals and small businesses to obtain access to natural gas service.

The first bill requires every natural gas distribution utility operating in the state to submit a three-year plan to the Public Utility Commission by Jan. 1, 2014, Yaw said.

The plans also would provide information as to the number of existing customers and gauge interest based on the amount of residential, commercial and industrial entities that don’t have gas service and costs.

Both legislators view the bills as potential framework for the next chapter of the state’s expansion of gas service and are hopeful they will receive bipartisan support in the Senate and House before heading to Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk.

County government interest at the conference was evident with the presence of Lycoming County officials.

Commissioner Jeff Wheeland asked the legislators about the cost benefits and savings. “If the state is successful in getting 10 percent more homes to hook up to natural gas, any guesses how much savings,” he asked.

While that was not an easy or available answer, Yaw said the Center for Rural Pennsylvania is conducting a study on demand.

The study would include the “price people might be willing to pay for conversion from home heating oil to natural gas,” he said.

Meanwhile, the senators’ legislation is expected to move before the Senate Environmental Resources Committee, which is chaired by Yaw.

Yaw said the process of getting it to the committee level could take “a few days.”

“My goal is to make it (natural gas) more available and give people the option if they want to use it.”