BERLIN — The long-awaited effort to bring cheaper, cleaner natural gas to Worcester now appears to be closer than ever as a major distributor continues to chug its pipeline closer to the county line.
Chesapeake Utilities officials last week announced it was continuing to extend its natural gas pipeline along Route 113 through Delaware and should be prepared to cross over into Worcester County later this summer. Chesapeake Utilities Senior Vice President Stephen Thompson said this week the installation of the pipeline continued to move a brisk pace and had reached Millsboro with a projected date to reach Worcester County set for Aug. 1.
“Our interstate extension originates in southeastern Pennsylvania and extends through Delaware along the Route 113 corridor,” Thompson said this week. “That is the main backbone that will ultimately serve Worcester County. Last year, we stopped at around Millsboro while we waited for the permit process to catch up and now we’re heading for the Worcester County line as planned.”
With an August arrival date planned, natural gas service could soon be available for many county residents seeking a cheaper, cleaner alternative to propane gas, which is widely used throughout Worcester.
“We hope to be there by this summer,” he said “Aug. 1 is the projected date if everything goes according to plan. We plan to enter the county along Route 113 and jump across to an area along Friendship Rd. just north of Route 50 and across from Stephen Decatur High School.”
Once the major pipeline reaches Worcester, gas distribution companies, such as Eastern Shore Gas, for example, which has said in the recent past it is interested in connecting residential and commercial properties to natural gas, will likely pick up the ball in terms of distribution.
“From there, it will be up to Chesapeake Utilities or Eastern Shore Gas to connect to the main transmission line and begin connecting residential areas and commercial properties to natural gas,” he said.
For County Commissioner Judy Boggs, who represents Ocean Pines, the announcement the natural gas pipeline could reach Worcester by August came after years of effort in attracting the utility alternative.
“It really came to a head last year,” she said. “For eight years, I had been trying to get natural gas companies to consider coming to Worcester but there was never much interest because it was always deemed too expensive to do it.”
Boggs said residents serviced by propane gas have dealt with ever-increasing winter heating bills and the pending arrival of natural gas represented a welcome alternative.
“Last year, with the brutal winter, there were people in communities like Ocean Pines and Glen Riddle that had $1,000-per-month propane gas bills,” she said. “When a lot of people moved here and were told there was gas available, many expected it was natural gas and not propane because they had come from urban or suburban areas. Propane can be so much more expensive because it’s not regulated, whereas natural gas is.”
The presumption in recent months has been Eastern Shore Gas would likely be a distributor because company officials have said they are interested when the pipeline reaches the county. However, it remains possible other companies could step up as well.
“In Ocean Pines, the assumption has always been the distributor will be Eastern Shore Gas because they are the propane supplier and a lot of the infrastructure is already in place,” said Boggs. “There may be several companies within Worcester County that want to take on the distribution when the transmission line gets here.”
Boggs cautioned the arrival of the pipeline will not immediately signal the availability of natural gas.
“It will probably be at least one more winter before natural gas is readily available in the county,” she said. “I don’t want to raise expectations about next winter. It will be easier to understand when it can be determined what kind of conversions homeowners are looking at.”
Boggs said it was too early to begin guessing at the cost of conversion to natural gas for most homeowners.
“There will probably be a wide range of conversion costs,” she said. “In some cases, it might be as simple as using a single orifice to connect a home, while in others it might be more complicated. That’s for the engineers to figure out.”
The conversion to natural gas would not be mandated, but judging by the interest generated in the pipeline extension, there is a clearly a demand in Worcester.
“It would have to be a voluntary thing,” she said. “Those with electric will likely stay with electric and some with propane will want to stay with propane, but it’s good to have options. There is a great deal of interest and a significant need for this in Worcester County.”
Thompson agreed and said extending the pipeline to Worcester was a condition of the state and federal approval process.
“For the pipeline to cross the state line, we had to demonstrate to the federal government there was a need and demand in Worcester County,” he said. “Clearly, there is.”