The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

January 24, 2013

Many consumers want gas, can’t get it

HARRISBURG — More than 18,000 customers have switched to natural gas in the past two years, as consumers scramble to take advantage of historically low gas prices, but almost half of Pennsylvanians live in areas that are not served by gas utilities.

Sen. Gene Yaw, chairman of the Senate Energy committee, said he hopes to soon unveil legislation that will encourage gas utilities to expand service so that more Pennsylvanians can switch to use natural gas as a heating source.

The expansion of drilling in the Marcellus shale region has driven down the price of natural gas, but almost half of Pennsylvania residents live in areas that are not served by gas utilities, a study by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania found.

“In the past five years, the price of natural gas has dropped 67 percent,” said Yaw, a Williamsport Republican. “It’s cheaper than heating oil. We think Pennsylvania should be able to take advantage of that.”

Gas industry officials said they are certainly interested in expanding to meet any increase in demand, but they are wary of any plan that would make them absorb costs that would either drain money that could be used to maintain existing and aging infrastructure or force them to pass along rate increases to current customers.

Terry Fitzpatrick, president of the Energy Association of Pennsylvania, a trade group, noted that gas companies are being pulled in two directions: Some argue that they ought to be spending more money on expansion while there is also public interest in utilities stepping up their efforts to safely maintain infrastructure.

Thursday, the PUC voted to fine gas utility UGI Corp. $500,000 for a 2011 natural gas explosion that killed five people in Allentown.

The settlement also requires the Reading-based company to replace all its cast iron pipelines within 14 years and to expand and enhance its testing and monitoring programs.

Fitzpatrick said that if the push to expand access to natural gas creates a conflict in which existing customers are subsidizing the costs of adding new customers, it would create problems.

“You need balance,” he said. “We need to see the details.”

In a letter to other lawmakers about the plan, Yaw and Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pilegi said that their Natural Gas Expansion and Development Initiative would include encouraging governments to switch to natural gas to heat their office buildings; offer incentives to school districts, colleges and hospitals to switch to natural gas; and create funding alternatives to help extend natural gas into underserved areas.

Extending a gas main can cost between $500,000 and $1 million a mile, Fitzpatrick said.

Currently, when the gas company considers whether to extend service, it will do a calculation to determine whether there are enough customers to make the effort worth the cost. Creating incentives for government and other large nonprofit customers to switch to gas could be significant by creating anchor customers to make it feasible to extend gas lines into new areas.

In most cases, it only makes sense to extend gas lines into new areas where there is a large commercial or industrial customer setting up shop, then nearby residential customers can hook onto the line, as well.

Otherwise, there typically is not enough revenue generated by residential customers to offset the construction costs.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News
  • Sisco, Ryan James & John Patrick Two brothers charged in beating at bar

    Two Johnstown brothers were jailed Wednesday after police said they beat a man so badly he suffered a concussion and may end up blind in one eye.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • path of flood Path of Flood entries due

    Anyone interested in participating in Johnstown Area Heritage Association’s  Path of the Flood Historic Half Marathon and 5K race will need to get in gear before the April 30 registration deadline.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Drilling fees should fund education, Democrats say

    Democrats running for governor seem to be competing to convince voters they will dip deepest into the pockets of gas drillers to replace $1 billion that Gov. Tom Corbett has cut from education spending.

    April 17, 2014

  • Local briefs 4/18/2014

    April 17, 2014

  • Home is Where The Tribune-Democrat is Delivered!

    April 17, 2014

  • smothers ‘It breaks my heart’: Shooting victim’s death leaves trail of shattered lives

    Victoria Smothers knows what people thought when they heard that a young black male had been shot to death in Moxham last week.

    April 16, 2014 2 Photos

  • School violence studied

    On a typical day last year, Pennsylvania schools caught 11 students toting weapons similar to ones used to slash 21 students and a security guard at a Pittsburgh-area high school, according to the state Department of Education. An untold number of others likely brought weapons to school but weren’t caught, safety experts say.

    April 16, 2014

  • egg hunt17 ACRP quietly notes 25th anniversary

    There will be little or no fanfare accompanying Alternative Community Resource Program’s 25th anniversary.
    And that’s how the executive director, Frank Janakovic, wants it.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • windber17 Windber students earn top ‘Overchiever’ rank

    Windber Area school’s PSSA scores have been tops in the region for the past several years.
    This year, they’re among the head of the class statewide, Pittsburgh Business Times annual Schools Guide shows.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Wise, Charles Police charge bank robbery suspect

    A Johnstown man was jailed on $250,000 bond after police said he robbed the West End Branch of AmeriServ Financial. Charles Wise, 48, of Barron Avenue, was charged with two counts of robbery.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

Poll

Do you think that Jack Williams will get the 270 signatures from city residents needed in order to have a referendum placed on a municipal ballot to have the city's pressure test mandate repealed?

Yes
No
I'm not sure
     View Results
House Ads