Financial incentives a possibility to ‘woo’ new natural gas customers



By Barb McKay


The construction of natural gas pipelines into Kincardine is expected to begin next year and EPCOR has hinted that there could be financial incentives for residents who sign up early.


Karim Kassam, Vice-President of Business Development for EPCOR, arrived in Kincardine from the company’s headquarters in Edmonton last Tuesday to address community members and local media. In an announcement that was made a week prior, the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) reported that EPCOR been selected to provide natural gas service to the southern Bruce region.


Kassam was joined by mayors Anne Eadie of the Municipality of Kincardine, Mitch Twolan of Huron-Kinloss and Paul Eagleson of Arran-Elderslie, as well as Thomas Stachowski, EPCOR’s Southern Bruce customer care manager, and Gordon Kaiser, former vice-president of the OEB who is now a consultant for EPCOR.


“We are excited about the announcement,” Kassam said. “We jumped on this bus in 2015 and now we are glad to see we are going to stay, maybe for the next century, bringing you natural gas.”


“These past few weeks have been very exciting for the Southern Bruce Natural Gas Project,” Eadie said. “As someone said, we’ve finally hit the home run. Our journey from 2011 has been quite a long journey but we’ve passed the biggest obstacles.”


After plans were well underway for EPCOR to submit its application to the OEB for approval to distribute natural gas to communities within the three municipalities, Union Gas entered the picture and announced it planned to compete for the project. That unexpected development prompted the OEB to come up with a process to evaluate two competing applications.


Kassam said the projected cost to carry out the Southern Bruce Natural Gas Project is lower than the $100 million originally projected. The proposal EPCOR submitted to the province included a cost of $80 million, but has to be adjusted to account for the grant of up to $27.73 million that was recently announced by the province. The project is now expected to come in between $60 and $80 million.


EPCOR is scheduling open houses in each of the three municipalities for mid-May where it will provide further details on the natural gas network and the route. Following those meetings, the company will finalize its environmental report for the project and submit it to the province. There will be a 90-day review period after which time EPCOR can file its Leave to Construct with the OEB.


If the approval for construction goes according to schedule, EPCOR will connect its pipelines at Dornoch in spring of 2019. Lines will run to the Bruce Energy Centre first, with lines extending into Chesley and Paisley along the route, and then into the Municipality of Kincardine, likely by the end of next year. Lines will then run to Point Clark, then into Ripley and Lucknow. All areas on the route are expected to be connected to natural gas by 2021.


John Gillespie of the Bruce County Federation of Agriculture asked if EPCOR planned to lay more pipelines in the future to extend service to agricultural properties that are not included in the current route. Kassam said EPCOR had revised its route prior to submitting its application to the OEB to include an additional 15 or 16 large agricultural properties.


“We are also looking at how we can use this grant that was provided by the province,” he said. “We are hoping there is a special economic development component of the grant that is targeted to farms and industries. If we can capture more farms then that is what we are going to do.”


Kassam noted that EPCOR kept its pipeline route fairly limited when it submitted its application to the OEB.


“The way to win this project was to keep the dollars of the cubic metre to individual customers low. However, that does not stop us from expanding and doing more of the area. As neighbourhoods grow and as people show interest we may keep expanding.”


Kassam also stressed that EPCOR is covering the cost of pipeline from the road up to 30 feet into individual properties and that connections to the natural gas system are optional. However, residents who sign up early may be rewarded.


“It’s in our best interest to have you convert sooner,” he said. “When construction crews are in your area we may come up with some kind of financial incentive to induce you to sign up now. We will woo you into connecting.”


EPCOR will not set its natural gas rates until it knows what the final project cost will be but Kassam assured that the rates will be less than propane, which is the lowest energy source for heating. Infrastructure costs will not go on the tax rate – EPCOR will front the construction costs and recover its investment through user rates. In exchange for covering the cost up front, the municipalities are giving ECPOR a 10-year tax break on the pipelines.


The project is expected to create approximately 200 temporary jobs during the construction phase. Ten people will be hired to operate the system.