By Patricia Beech
In the not-so-distant-future, Adams County residents could see their heating costs go down and the number of available local jobs go up if plans to construct a natural gas pipeline across the county come to fruition.
The Adams County Board of Commissioners and the Adams County Office of Economic Development (ACOED) have entered an agreement with Utility Pipeline, Ltd, (UPL), a Canton,Ohio-based company that provides natural gas service to communities and businesses that are typically denied service by the major natural gas utility companies.
According to ACOED Director Holly Johnson, the company has begun the preliminary work for laying a natural gas pipeline across northern Adams County.
She called the infrastructure project a game-changer for Adams County, and said construction on the pipeline could begin as early as the spring of 2019.
“This pipeline will open up the 32 corridor for development,” Johnson said. “With gas lines comes employment – we’re no longer standing behind the eight ball when it comes to development. We’ll be out front because we have available land, and soon we’ll also have available utilities.”
The gas line project comes at a critical time for Adams County.
The closure of the county’s two coal-fired power generation plants in June 2018, and the subsequent loss of millions in tax revenue created a significant deficit in the county’s operating budget.
To shore up support for infrastructure development that would attract industry to the area and fill the void left by Dayton Power & Light’s departure, local business leaders and elected officials spent months traveling to and from the Ohio statehouse for meetings with state representatives.
While Duke Energy seemed the obvious choice to provide natural gas to the county, the utility giant, which is focused primarily on providing natural gas service to urban areas, showed little interest in expanding its service to outlying rural areas.
Frustration with the Duke’s reticence reached a boiling point at Leadership Adams Capitol Day in March 2018 when during a meeting with state officials Commissioner Diane Ward said, “Forget about Duke, we’ll find another way.”
Following Capitol Day, the Board of Commissioners began talks with executives from UPL.
Officials from the company visited the county to measure interest and need. They met with representatives from the Adams County Regional Medical Center, Hanson Aggregate, General Electric, Cargill, Southern State Community College, village officials, and the Board of Commissioners.
Johnson says she believes they left “feeling good about bringing their gas service here.”
“Because they’re a co-op they have investors who want them to expand and push them to do that,” she said. “They want to bring their gas service into undeveloped areas like ours so this is a win/win for both of us.”
According to Johnson, the eigh-inch pipeline would be constructed along State Rte. 247 from Highland County to Seaman at a cost far less than the $1 million per mile Duke Energy demanded.
Both the Adams County Regional Medical Center and the North Adams schools have signaled their intention to convert to natural gas when the pipeline construction is completed, a move that would reduce their energy costs up to 40 percent.
Johnson said the company will then branch out to provide service to residential areas in the village of Seaman while beginning construction along the State Rte. 32 corridor, building west toward Winchester and east toward Peebles.
While co-ops like UPL look for long-term returns, 10 to 20 years beyond their initial investment, the costs involved in laying the gas pipeline have to be covered in the short term.
“UPL isn’t looking for a return in the first three years, they’re in it for the long haul,” says Johnson. “But, the ultimate debt has to be paid back. UPL will fund some of the project, and the county will also provide funds, but we’re looking for ways to insure that it isn’t passed on to the consumer.”
Johnson and the Board of Commissioners have met with state Representative Terry Johnson, State Senator Joe Uecker, Congressman Brad Wenstrup, Senator Sherrod Brown, and Senator Rob Portman to facilitate tapping into available Power Grant dollars and Rural Infrastructure dollars to off-set the cost to consumers.
“There will be an initial up-front cost for residential users to convert to natural gas, but long term they’ll save 30 to 40 percent on their energy costs,” Johnson said. “We just aren’t willing to ask consumers to pay the debt service.”
Bringing a gas pipeline into the county was a prime directive from the Board of Commissioners Office to be carried out by Johnson and the Office of Economic Development.
“Our possibilities can be unlimited once this happens,” says Johnson. “We are seeing this coming closer to fruition than it’s ever been. It’s been seen as a pipe dream for so long, but if everything works out well, it will put us on a level playing field for attracting industry and for growth.”
Because most businesses want site-ready properties, the Adams County Community Incorporation (CIC) has purchased 36 acres on State Rte. 32 near Dorsey Road and will began developing infrastructure there for incoming industries.
Johnson says once the pipeline is in place, her office will begin responding to industry requests from JobsOhio leads.
“We can’t answer them now because they all need gas and we can’t provide it, so we can’t even deal with site selectors to get them to consider Adams County because we don’t have what they need,” she says. “It’s not yet in our tool box.”
Commissioner Ward says she believes the pipeline will lead to “an amazing amount of changes” in the county.
“This company and their interest could change the scope of our county,” she said. “Over the past several years we’ve had several businesses look at the 32 corridor, they say they’d love to come but we don’t have natural gas so, this natural gas line is hopefully going to bring business here, boost our economy, and offset some of the losses we’ve suffered in the southern part of the county.”