Legislator’s bills aim to increase availability of gas to consumers

The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, chaired by state Sen. E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, approved two bills Wednesday designed to make natural gas service available to more Pennsylvanians.

Senate bills 738 and 739, sponsored by Yaw and Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester, are designed to extend and expand natural gas distribution systems to unserved and under served residential, commercial and industrial sites.

“This legislation will provide Pennsylvania homeowners, businesses, schools and hospitals with an alternative to their current heating source by encouraging natural gas utilities to identify areas that are presently not served by natural gas and expand or extend infrastructure into those areas,” Yaw said in a news release. “Improving the accessibility and availability of natural gas service throughout the state will give more residents the opportunity to benefit from this low-cost fuel. It would be an option, not a mandate, for them to use natural gas or to switch from their current heating source.”

“Pennsylvania is fortunate to have an abundance of affordable natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation,” Pileggi said. “These bills make smart investments, which will cut costs for homeowners by allowing them to take advantage of this new energy supply. The bills will also encourage economic growth by giving that same opportunity to businesses and non-profit organizations all across Pennsylvania.”

Senate Bill 738, known as the Natural Gas Consumer Access Act, will require every natural gas distribution utility operating in Pennsylvania to submit a three-year plan to the Public Utility Commission, outlining the utility’s plans for extension and expansion projects. The PUC will have the option to reject, revise or order the utility to submit a revised plan for adequacy and completeness and do periodic reviews.

Senate Bill 738 also will create a system providing for expedited extension or expansion projects if an economic development agency or a large number of residential, commercial or industrial entities want to seek to obtain natural gas service.

Senate Bill 739 will amend the Alternative Energy Investment Act to provide for $15 million for grants to schools, hospitals and small businesses to obtain access to natural gas service. The funding will come from existing, under-utilized programs. Grants made under Senate Bill 739 may provide up to half of the cost of a project.

Both bills now move to the full Senate for consideration.