by Don Kiel, Executive Director
Recently, the SEDA-COG Natural Gas Cooperative was awarded a Pipeline Infrastructure Program (PIPE) grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. This $1 million grant will be used to support construction of a new natural gas pipeline delivery system in the Centre Hall area of Centre County. More specifically, the grant will be used to construct a point of delivery (POD) connection station to a nearby transmission pipeline. Our main partner in this project, Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania, will then fund and construct a pipeline delivery network to serve Centre Hall Borough and surrounding areas, including major employer Hanover Foods, who is also contributing to the cost of the POD. In its initial phase, the delivery network will connect and provide natural gas to approximately 100 businesses and residents along the route. With support from Columbia’s new tariff programs, the main delivery pipelines and lateral connections will be constructed at no cost to the customers located along the route. Construction is expected to begin during 2018, and to be complete within 18 months.
This project illustrates how the Cooperative can play an integral role as a catalyst in providing new natural gas service to areas that desire it. There is currently no natural gas service in the area, but significant interest in having access to natural gas has been noted for some time. The Centre Hall area was identified as a “targeted investment area” during a systematic analysis conducted as part of a Regional Gas Utilization Initiative (RGUI) study performed by SEDA-COG during 2014 and 2015. The Cooperative followed up this study by working with Columbia Gas, local governments, business leaders, and community organizations to conduct surveys and neighborhood meetings to gauge interest in getting natural gas, answer questions, provide information, and address concerns about the proposed service. As a result, positive responses for receiving service were noted at a much higher level than is typical, helping to solidify the decision to implement a project. Much of this “legwork” was performed by the Cooperative.
Perhaps the main reason the Cooperative was successful in receiving the PIPE grant was the regional nature of the organization, which was focused on building public-private partnerships for the project. The Cooperative currently has six member counties, all of which have county commissioners, economic development planners, and community leaders serving on its board of directors. These individuals have demonstrated significant dedication, effective leadership, and outstanding coordination in pursuing new natural gas service across the Cooperative’s service region. Leveraging funding and support from different sources was effective in this instance, and should continue to be a successful approach elsewhere in building new natural gas infrastructure. In the Centre Hall example, the Cooperative also has been able to work together with the regional natural gas utility, Columbia Gas, in a complementary manner. In other instances, the Cooperative may determine that working independently is the best choice for natural gas project development. With either approach, our capability to provide a flexible and practical means to provide natural gas throughout central Pennsylvania will be the centerpiece of our work, and we look forward to developing future projects in the region.