SEDA-Council of Governments has been awarded a $50,000 grant to get eight central Pennsylvania counties ready to distribute natural gas to unserved or underserved homes, businesses and industries.

The Appalachian Regional Commission grant will enable SEDA-COG to identify potential locations in Columbia, Juniata, Lycoming, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Snyder and Union counties to provide natural gas to help attract manufacturers and reduce energy costs to residents, as well as strategies for funding improvements. The project will outline possible next steps and roles for local governments and businesses to consider when planning for expanded natural gas services.

This is the second phase of a successful regional initiative that began in three counties in the SEDA-COG region in 2013. SEDA-COG developed a replicable pilot Regional Gas Utilization Initiative (RGUI) study that identified areas for natural gas distribution line extensions in Centre, Clinton and Mifflin counties. At least one potential demonstration project in each of the three initial counties could be undertaken in the near term. For example, in Clinton County there are two potential projects that would cost about $15 million to develop, with over 600 potential new natural gas users.

While northern and western Pennsylvania produce a tremendous amount of natural gas, access to this resource in the central part of the state is problematic mainly because of an undeveloped distribution system. Less than 30 percent of the homes in the project’s eight-county service area are heated with natural gas. Expanding access to the natural gas supply network offers significant economic development opportunities for the region and can create and retain jobs.

In addition to the $50,000 grant, the eight counties and SEDA-COG will provide a combined funding of $56,387, bringing the total project phase two funding to $106,387. The first phase cost was $160,000, and is currently nearing completion.

The second phase completion date is December 2016.

Among implementation options for natural gas service, SEDA-COG is evaluating the suitability of newer technologies, such as “virtual pipelines” that can be established to provide service to “gas islands” not connected to existing distribution networks. Compressed natural gas can be delivered by truck to a decompression station located at the site of a major user, usually a larger commercial business. The virtual pipeline model can serve a single user or a limited network of users connected by a small pipeline network, including residential areas. Cost savings can be achieved as compared to many other sources of energy. Additional options may include small natural-gas-to-electricity power plants and other similar technologies.

SEDA-COG also is participating on the Governor’s Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force, with RGUI project manager Don Kiel serving as a member. Kiel is participating in the task force’s Workforce & Economic Development subgroup that will give recommendations and best practices related to expanding access to natural gas resources throughout the state to support economic growth and development.

“Approval of this project means that strategies for providing better access to natural gas resources can now be evaluated in detail for the entire SEDA-COG region. I hope that performing this work for the 11-county area will provide a strong impetus to support development of natural gas solutions and projects, especially in achieving funding support through state and federal programs,” Kiel said. “I also expect the project to receive positive exposure through my work with the Governor’s Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force, which is formulating recommendations on policy and best practices to support responsible, increased use of natural gas resources throughout Pennsylvania.”

Initiative phase one project partners include Centre, Clinton and Mifflin counties; the Mifflin County Industrial Development Corporation; and Standard Steel, LLC. Key participants are UGI Utilities, Inc. and Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania.