The gas utility might foot an estimated $2 million-plus bill to help bring natural gas to New Canaan if the town can show that there’s wide interest among key New Canaan residents and businesses in tapping the service, officials say.
Fuel oil has become increasingly more expensive than gas, so the proposed tapping of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline is expected to save up to 50 percent on energy costs in town homes, businesses and public buildings, according to the New Canaan Utilities Commission.
Proponents of the project also cite as a major reason to pursue gas the relative safety of gas lines over propane tanks for businesses such as restaurants.
Yet it isn’t clear who would pay for required infrastructure—mainly a “gate station” that’s needed to reduce pressure in the pipeline by about 90 percent in order to run lines to town. The 18- to 20-inch pipe runs from Maine down to the Mexico border in Texas.
For the Connecticut utility, Yankee Gas, knowing that homes between Waveny and downtown New Canaan along South Avenue would sign up for the service could mean the town doesn’t have to fund the station's construction, according to Utilities Commission Member Scott LaShelle.
That’s because limiting the service to just five large buildings—South, Saxe and New Canaan High Schools, as well as the YMCA and Waveny Care Center—wouldn’t justify the utility’s making the full estimated $2 million to $3 million investment in infrastructure.
Commission Chair Dan Welch said Yankee Gas should “demonstrate to us a long-term plan throughout a lot more of the community."
“It’s not just about the low-hanging fruit,” Welch said at the commission’s meeting Monday night at the New Canaan Nature Center Discovery Room. “They are a public utility so there has to be some plan to get gas to everybody—especially when it is going to go downtown, where safety is a key consideration.”
The all-volunteer commission has spearheaded efforts to identify a workable plan to tap the pipeline, as well as to boost cellphone service in town, since re-forming about one year ago.
Welch—who himself credits former Fire Commissioner Roger Williams and First Selectman Rob Mallozzi for bringing him to the group—was joined Monday by fellow members Geoffrey Pickard, Derek Bennett and LaShelle (all pictured).
During the meeting, the commission unanimously approved a recommendation letter to be delivered to the town Parks and Recreation Commission. That group now becomes involved because the gate station itself would be located in Waveny—likely along an inconspicuous stretch that runs between Lapham Road and the parking lot that serves the paddle tennis courts, Spencer’s Run and town pool.
LaShelle told Patch during a phone interview that Yankee Gas officials think the “load”—that is, the potential customer base that would tap the gas line—is large enough that the town doesn’t have to pay anything up front for the service. Yankee Gas could not immediately be reached for comment.
The next step from the utility’s end is to conduct a “load study,” LaShelle said. Then, the utility would need the go-ahead from Connecticut’s Public Utility Regulatory Authority. If the town approved what its experts on the Utilities Commission—as well as town officials such as Fire Marshal Fred Baker—have recommended, then the work conceivably could begin next spring and wrap up by the end of the summer.
“There’s a lot of money to be saved for everybody if we can bring this natural gas service to town,” LaShelle said.