EPCOR opens customer care office downtown Kincardine

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News

By Barb McKay

EPCOR has taken another step forward in the process to bring natural gas to the region by opening an office in Kincardine where residents can meet face to face with a representative to learn about the cost and process to convert home energy systems to natural gas.

EPCOR officially opened its doors on Friday at 735 Queen Street, where it will share office space with Bruce Telecom. Residents can bring their utility bills into the office and meet with an EPCOR staff person to learn more about natural gas and the details around conversion.

While EPCOR CEO Stuart Lee said the company is very close to being ready to put pipes in the ground, the decision of whether the project will ultimately proceed is in the hands of the Ontario Energy Board (OEB).

“We’re excited to get moving on it,” he said. “It just hasn’t been happening as quickly as we had hoped.”

Kincardine’s most recent bid to bring natural gas service to the municipality started back in 2011 when it partnered with the Municipality of Arran-Elderslie and Township of Huron-Kinloss for the Southern Bruce Natural Gas Project. Together, the municipalities selected EPCOR as the preferred natural gas service provider and entered into a franchise agreement in 2016.

Applications for natural gas projects in Ontario were put on hold last year when the OEB held public generic hearings to determine a new regulatory structure for natural gas expansion projects. In its subsequent decision, the OEB stated it had considered cost recovery solutions for rural and northern natural gas projects.

Costs will not be subsidized by existing natural gas customers, the board reported. Rather, new customers will pay for expansions through a rate structure that reflects the cost. Natural gas utilities who wish to undertake expansion projects will need to apply to the OEB, as they have in the past, and must provide a long-term commitment to maintain stable rates (reflective of long-term costs) in order to receive approval.

Lee said EPCOR is nearly ready to make its application with only one item left on the environmental impact study left to complete. Once the process is complete the company can file for a leave for construction. He said EPCOR remains strongly committed to the project and the opening of the office in Kincardine reflects that.

“The regulatory process hasn’t changed our resolve or the community’s resolve to make this possible,” he said. “You’ve been behind us and we’ve been behind you through this whole process.”

Lee said if EPCOR receives the leave to construct from the province, pipes could go into the ground late this year or early next year. The pipelines will begin at Dornoch and extend some 245 kilometres, connecting the Bruce Energy Centre first, then Kincardine, Tiverton, Chesley, Paisley, Ripley, Lurgan Beach and Lucknow.

EPCOR opening a customer care centre is another turning point for the municipalities to bring natural gas to the region, Kincardine Mayor Anne Eadie said during the opening ceremony. She said the municipalities have been fighting hard for years to bring natural gas to the region not only because it is a safe and economical energy source for residents but also because it is an economic driver for the region.

Arran-Elderslie Mayor Paul Eagleson said he is pleased that EPCOR is opening an office and hopes another one can be opened in either Paisley or Chesley in the future. He said having a local presence will help EPCOR educate people about the project and clear up any confusion.

“Having an office adds an extra layer of confidence to the plan to bring natural gas to the area,” Huron-Kinloss Councillor Lillian Abbott added. “To have a place where people can talk to someone one on one. We will be sending residents from Ripley and Lucknow here.”

EPCOR estimates the cost to bring natural gas to the region is in the $100 million range, which it will front and then recoup through consumer rates over time. The municipalities will give EPCOR a 10-year hiatus from property taxes on the lines to help reduce the burden and, in turn, EPCOR will set its rates for 10 years.

Earlier this year, the province announced it will provide $100 million in grants to expand natural gas service to communities that do not yet have the service. The municipalities have applied for funding and expect to learn soon if the application is successful. That money would go towards assisting residents with conversion costs.