Berlin First Up For Natural Gas; Utility Reports Then Ocean Pines

Berlin First

BERLIN — The ongoing conversion of properties in Berlin from propane to natural gas is pushing west this week after most areas east of Route 113 have now been completed, a utility official told the Mayor and Council this week.
Last year, a major natural gas main line pushed south through Sussex County and into northern Worcester with the ultimate goal of converting many areas in the north end of the county from propane to cleaner burning, more efficient natural gas. Sandpiper Energy, the Maryland affiliate of the larger Chesapeake Utilities, installed the natural gas main south along Route 113 to an ultimate connection at a southern terminus near Friendship Rd. on the north side of Route 50.
With the main infrastructure in place, Sandpiper Energy is now in the midst of an aggressive plan to connect many of the populous areas in the north end of Worcester including Berlin, Ocean Pines and ultimately Ocean City and complete the conversion from propane to natural gas for existing customers ready to make the switch. Because of the placement of the main line and the associated infrastructure, connecting Berlin was the logical first step. Ocean Pines will be started when Berlin is about 75 percent complete.
For the last few weeks, Sandpiper has connected many of the areas on the east side of Berlin along Old Ocean City Blvd. and across Route 50 to Seahawk Rd. and Stephen Decatur High School and Middle School. Sandpiper Energy Manager of Gas Conversions Steve Tull presented the details of the next step to the Mayor and Council on Monday, including a push across Route 113 and up Old Ocean City Blvd. to ultimately Main Street and the downtown area.
“The goal is to connect the whole town,” he said. “We’re going to convert existing propane to natural gas wherever possible and wherever it is desired because it is a much cleaner burning fuel and will reduce emissions.”
The natural gas lines will run along the major corridors and branch off to side streets to connect individual residential and commercial properties. For the most part, the existing hardware, pipes, valves and fixtures that supply propane gas can be converted to natural gas fairly easily and fairly cheaply.
Tull said Sandpiper would pay a large percentage for most connections and the remainder would be reflected with a minimal charge on the property owner’s monthly gas bill until it is paid for. Naturally, the more connections the company makes, the smaller the fee. However, there will not be an upfront installation charge. For example, no customer will be forced to pay a $1,000 upfront charge to connect.
The company will pay for individual connections to homes and businesses and convert existing systems for natural gas, but not for major reconstruction projects to facilitate the changeover.
“Sandpiper will pay whatever it can toward the changeover,” he said. “We’re going to look at every single property and make a determination and see what it needs for conversion.”
Sandpiper will work as quickly as possible, weather permitting, but the changeover in Berlin will not happen overnight. The conversions would be quicker if the town was a planned development with similar homes.
“We hope to be out of here within a year,” he said. “Berlin is a challenge with so many older homes and older equipment. Some old equipment can’t readily be changed over. It’s not like a cookie-cutter development.”
Tull said Sandpiper was cognizant of the importance of the business district, particularly during the holiday season, and would limit disruptions.
“We’re going to work a Monday through Thursday schedule,” he said “We’re trying to stay out of town on Friday because we know how busy it is during the holiday season. We’re trying to work to avoid the downtown area as much as possible because we don’t want to disrupt business.”

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