Natural gas proposal would bring service, distribution line here
Mountaineer Gas Company of West Virginia has asked the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) to approve a plan to extend the company’s natural gas distribution lines from Martinsburg into Morgan County, and connect to a gas transmission line that could be brought in from Pennsylvania.
Last Thursday, March 31, Mountaineer Gas submitted an amendment to an existing application before the state’s utility regulation agency, asking to be able to add a total of 56.4 miles of trunk distribution line in the Eastern Panhandle.
One segment, according to the application, would stretch 27.5 miles from a Columbia Gas Transmission line north of Morgan County to the northern end of Mountaineer Gas existing natural gas system in Martinsburg.
A natural gas pipeline doesn’t yet exist on the northern boundary of Morgan County along the Potomac River.
Mountaineer Gas Senior Vice President Moses Skaff told The Morgan Messenger in a phone interview that Columbia Gas Pipeline would be responsible for creating that connection.
Skaff said he isn’t sure where that line will come from, but said Columbia has natural gas lines in nearby areas of Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Columbia Pipeline Group officials did not provide specifics about their plans to bring a transmission line to Morgan County by press time.
Skaff said his company has requested approval by the state for the expansion project by August 1, with the possibility that natural gas could be available to customers by the end of 2017.
Mountaineer Gas is headquartered in Charleston, employs more than 460 people and serves 220,000 customers around the state.
The company is expecting to invest $45 million in the installation of the trunk and distribution lines to the Eastern Panhandle, said Skaff.
Industrial and commercial businesses are the primary target customers for a new natural gas line in the Eastern Panhandle, Skaff said.
“The more commercial customers come on board, the more economical it will be for residential customers,” he said. Availability of natural gas to homes will depend on local demand, he said.
He noted that the company plans to go ahead with the expansion even if no new customers along the path come on board.
Skaff said the expansion of the trunk line will help the company serve its existing customers, and create a “loop” that can feed high-demand customers and attract new users.
Mountaineer Gas has been working with Morgan County Economic Development Director Betsy Heath to gauge commercial interest in having natural gas service locally.
Heath said she’s sought nonbinding letters of interest from Morgan County companies that see a benefit in bringing natural gas here. She said several businesses have an interest in natural gas service, and many prospective businesses have said natural gas is a requirement for them to locate in Morgan County.
“We have lost some potential businesses because we didn’t have it. Not having natural gas was a deal-breaker,” said Heath. “Bill Clark could list 10-15 companies where we didn’t even make it past the first round of talks because we didn’t have it.”
She said one well-known microbrewery company was interested in locating in Berkeley Springs, but didn’t because of the lack of natural gas, which burns differently than propane. Heath hopes to “re-engage” those companies in talks if the utility plan goes forward.
“The EDA Board of Directors is absolutely thrilled. This is a game-changer for Morgan County,” said Heath.
Natural gas distribution lines being proposed in Morgan County are six to 12 inches in diameter, and would be buried underground, said Skaff. He said those being planned are not the high-pressure, large-diameter transmission lines that many communities have concerns about.
Mountaineer Gas hasn’t proposed a specific path for the new lines, but their application outlines a route that would take the line across U.S. Silica property, then along Route 9 to Ridersville, along existing power line and CSX rights of way and into northeast Hedgesville.
Skaff said the company prefers to use existing rights of way to reduce crossings onto private land.
From Hedgesville, the transmission lines would extend to Falling Waters and then the north end of Martinsburg, the proposal said.
An additional 28.9 miles of expansion would extend Martinsburg natural gas lines to Charles Town and Shepherdstown.
If the Public Service Commission approves the proposed line expansion, Skaff said his company will work with Columbia Pipeline Group to engineer the specifics of pipe size and preferred routes.
Skaff said Mountaineer Gas will partner with regional Economic Development officials to present information to the public about possible distribution line routes, once those are narrowed down.
Betsy Heath said the Morgan County EDA will serve that role locally.
Skaff said he’s spent plenty of time in Morgan County and knows many people locally, and his company takes the environmental impact of the proposed lines seriously.
“We’re not going to mess that up,” he said.