Utility officials praise new bills, gas development at Chamber breakfast

State Public Utility Commission officials are high on the natural gas industry and claim the best is yet to come.

“This is really a global discussion – a global game changer,” said PUC Vice Chairman John Coleman.

Coleman and PUC Chairman Rob Powelson were on hand Thursday to address the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

They talked about the economic benefits of the gas industry as well as some of the challenges it presents. Among those challenges are the safety aspects of drilling for gas and distributing it to markets. Coleman noted that the PUC lobbied the state to give it the authority to enforce pipeline safety laws.

The explosion of a gas pipeline in Allentown in 2011 resulted in five deaths and was one of the more unfortunate incidents involving the industry in recent years, he said. Powelson said worldwide energy consumption is expected to increase by 53 percent between 2008 and 2035.

Over that time, the consumption of natural gas will go up by 52 percent. Much of the gas drilling is located in Pennsylvania, with more than 29,000 people employed in its core industries, he noted. In addition, nearly 210,000 people are employed in jobs related to the industry.

Powelson lauded the gas impact fee enacted by the state last year. The fee assessed on gas drillers generates revenue for both local municipalities where drilling occurs as well as the state. Powelson said he would not get into a debate comparing an impact fee and a severance tax, which failed to pass in the state.

He credited state Sens. E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township and Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi with pushing on behalf of Senate Bill 738.

The bill would provide homeowners, businesses, schools, and hospitals with an alternative to their current heating sources by encouraging gas utilities to begin serving areas where it is not currently available.

Yaw, a co-sponsor of the bill, is chairman of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

“We are joined at the hip with Sen. Yaw in promoting this legislation,” he said.

Coleman said more suppliers of electricity in the state are providing consumers with more choices.

“It’s a competitive market now,” he said. “It’s good to shop for your energy.”

Coleman noted that the PUC’s use of smart meters, which identify energy consumption for the utility and the consumer, help cut energy costs.