Editor’s note: This story is part of the CDT’s Business Matters special section.
To help retain businesses in Centre County and attract new ones, the SEDA-Council of Governments created a Natural Gas Cooperative in June to help bring the alternative form of fuel to the area.
While adding jobs is also a priority for the county, Executive Director of the co-op Don Kiel said creating opportunities for those already-existing companies — and residents — to stay right where they are depends on what is and isn’t offered to them.
One initiative of the cooperative includes a proposal for a natural gas pipeline in Centre Hall and Potter Township.
Never miss a local story.
If executed, Kiel said, the pipeline can bring jobs to the area, but “more importantly” keep businesses right where they are.
The plan, called Centre Hall-Hanover Foods Proposed Natural Gas Pipeline Project, includes hooking up Hanover Foods Corp. directly to the natural gas line, and making it available to other local businesses and residents.
“There is a possibility of creating new jobs, but just the way the Pennsylvania economy is in the center part of the state, we traditionally try to really focus on keeping jobs we already have stay here,” Kiel said.
Natural gas, Kiel said, is a benefit in more ways than one, including cheaper and cleaner energy.
“I’ve worked with a lot of people at the state level and with the government pipeline task force and heard a lot of people from different portions of the state talk about trying to recruit new industries,” Kiel said. “The first question is, do you have access to natural gas?”
But Centre Hall Mayor Ray Hankinson said he’s hearing mixed reactions.
“We (as a borough) had almost no part in it, but I support it; I think it’s a great opportunity for Centre Hall,” Hankinson said. “What I’m a hearing are some people with the argument that they would need to buy an expensive furnace upgrade, and asking if it’s a good bang for their buck, so to speak.”
Representatives from Columbia Gas and SEDA-COG will keep affected residents informed about their options, and solicit feedback from community members.
The co-op was established to do similarly what has been done with SEDA-COG’s Joint Rail Authority.
“It took over lines that were abandoned and found use for them,” Kiel said. “That was a good model for us, but in a different aspect. The Marcellus Shale is providing us with a ton of benefits like natural gas, but in central Pennsylvania, we’re poor in infrastructure. There are neighborhoods with natural gas, and some that don’t.”
Kiel said a study was done to identify communities in SEDA-COG’s 11-county area that would benefit from a natural gas pipeline.
The study included a part of the Penns Valley region, and would be sponsored in part by Columbia Gas, among other donors.
According to a report from the development organization, the Centre Hall-Hanover Foods Proposed Pipeline Project could cost between $4 million to $4.5 million.
The report said Columbia Gas would fund $2.5 million to $3 million. The rest would come from grants and other user contributions like that from Hanover Foods.
A bulk of the cost would be to build a compression station planned in Potter Township on Brush Valley Road west of Centre Hall.
But before it’s approved, Kiel said SEDA-COG representatives are waiting on grant funding to go through.
“When we looked at these target area, the question became, what can we do to implement and develop something to support gas delivery companies?” Kiel said. “We’re in the middle of talking about these projects now with stakeholders and funding sources, and trying to secure them.”
Kiel said it will likely be a multiphase project, but the biggest benefit is opening up a natural gas line that has more than one use.
“We would like to promote this so it can serve the larger commercial industrial retail business and also include service for residents,” he said.
If all goes as planned, Kiel said the project could start as early as later this year. More realistically, he said construction of the natural gas pipeline would start in 2018.
“If this does go to an area like Centre Hall, we want to look at the level of participation and still be cognizant of the impact on the environment,” Kiel said. “Other than coal, it’s the cheapest form of energy because it’s all tied up into how easy it is to produce and transport, and the advantage locally is that there is a local source.”
Natural gas in Centre County is produced in the northern part of the county in areas such as Burnside and Snow Shoe townships, where wells are drilled by gas and oil companies.
“Basically, it’s just a new way to approach things and look at this as a future trend,” Kiel said.