Centre County looks to expand natural gas service

The Centre County Board of Commissioners approved a memorandum of understanding Tuesday for a new project that will target areas of the county for the expansion of natural gas distribution.

Staff for the county’s Planning and Community Development Office have been working on the Regional Gas Utilization Initiative to identify priority areas of the county for the expansion of service, office Assistant Director Sue Hannegan said.

Based on that work, she said, the Susquehanna Economic Development Association Council of Governments prepared a grant request to the U.S. Economic Development Administration for funding to look at target investment areas for the expansion of natural gas in Clinton, Centre and Mifflin counties

What the memo is asking for, she said, is a $20,000 contribution from Centre County toward the work. The amount will be matched by Clinton and Mifflin counties as well as SEDA-COG for a total of $80,000. The EDA grant will also provide $80,000 for a project total of $160,000.

The goal is to identify three target areas in each county, Hannegan said. Within Centre County, the development office has already defined three areas that meet the criteria for natural gas expansion: the Milesburg area, from Bald Eagle Area High School to the Interstate 80 interchange; the Snow Shoe area, from the I-80 interchange to Mountaintop Elementary School; and the Philipsburg residential area adjoining the Philipsburg-Osceola Area High School.

These target areas could change as the project moves forward and the office gets requests from other areas, she said. Commissioner Chris Exarchos said requests for service have already come in from the Centre Hall area.

The memorandum is part of ongoing discussions about the challenges of expanding infrastructure in rural counties like Centre County, Exarchos said. It’s often not cost effective for utilities to invest in stretches of infrastructure with a very low return rate.

“We’re looking for other strategies to get connection between communities and take advantage of fairly lower-cost natural gas compared to oil or propane,” he said.

Exarchos and Hannegan agreed that a majority of the gas drilled in the county is then shipped to other areas like New York and Philadelphia, leaving residents with the impact but none of the benefits.

Results of the project can be expected by mid-2015, Hannegan said.