Natural gas companies announce plans for expansion

The state's three natural gas distribution companies on Monday filed a plan to expand gas service to 280,000 new customers throughout the state, along with an application for state approval for the expansion.

The plan and application, filed with the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, follows Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's Comprehensive Energy Strategy to expand natural gas service in the state, announced in March, and a companion bill approved by the state legislature.

Malloy set a goal of expanding gas service to bring more affordable power to state residents, a strategy being pursued by about 20 other states trying to also take advantage of the decline in natural gas prices due to increasing supplies.

The plan and application were jointly filed by Connecticut Natural Gas, Southern Connecticut Gas and Yankee Gas, the utility that serves southeastern Connecticut as well as other parts of the state.

Rodney Powell, president and chief operating officer of Yankee Gas, said his company is seeking to expand service to 84,000 customers in its service areas. In New London County, most of its customers are in New London, but potential expansion areas identified in the plan include Groton, Mystic, North Stonington, Waterford, East Lyme, Preston, Ledyard and Montville, as well as additional homes and businesses within New London. The expansion would be done by working to attract customers near existing gas lines, as well as through line expansion.

Potential new large commercial customers including Pfizer Inc. in Groton, Fusion Paperboard in Sprague and RockTenn in Uncasville have been identified, Powell said, and the towns of Waterford and Sprague, among others, have expressed interest in gas line expansions, he said.

The joint application includes requests to lengthen the time period for customers to repay for hook-up and conversion costs, which average about $7,500, from 15 to 25 years, and rate structure adjustments, Powell said. Typical residential customers can save about $1,800 per year on natural gas service compared to oil heat, while commercial customers can save about $3,300 per year and large industrial users can save about $25,000, he said.

Three companies, Algonquin, Tennessee Gas Pipeline and Iroquois, current supply gas to the distribution companies, and are looking to upgrade and expand their infrastructure in the state. Algonquin, the company that supplies gas to southeastern Connecticut, plans to file an application for expansion of its lines later this week with the Federal Energy Regulatory Authority.

"Currently," Powell said, "we have sufficient capacity, but we will be signing on for additional capacity to meet our projections for new growth."

He said natural gas supplies are projected to be able to meet current and future demand for the next 100 years.

DEEP Commissioner Daniel Esty said the plan and application are good news for state residents.

"With readily available, low cost domestic supplies as close as 75 miles from our state, natural gas can provide a valuable bridge to a clean energy future," he said in a news release. "... since natural gas burns much cleaner than heating oil, converting more people to natural gas will also bring public health gains by improving the quality of the air we breathe."

He said the plan and application will be reviewed by DEEP regulators to ensure that it meets the requirements of the Comprehensive Energy Strategy and the accompanying legislation.

j.benson@theday.com

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