Natural gas pipeline expansion top priority for development corp

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Windsor Star/Grace Macaluso

Stephen MacKenzie, newly minted CEO of the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation, will make the shortage of natural gas one of his top priorities as he officially starts his job Monday.

The agency’s board of directors said Friday it plans to push for speedy provincial approval of a plan to address a critical shortage of natural gas that could stymie future development.

“It would seem to me that the whole concept of power, energy and resources is tremendously important to all regions in Ontario and we, in Windsor and Essex County, have to take this seriously, whether it’s the cost of electricity or supply of gas services to prospective and existing individuals,” Marty Komsa, chair of the corporation’s board of directors. “We should become involved in that and see what we can do.”

Union Gas is proposing to increase the capacity of its Panhandle Transmission System, which services customers in Windsor-Essex, Chatham-Kent and surrounding areas, by installing a new 36-inch diameter pipeline to replace the current 16-inch diameter pipeline.

But it must get approval from the Ontario Energy Board for the project. If approved, construction is targeted to begin in the spring of 2017. The cost of the proposed project is currently estimated to be $264.5 million.

At the development corporation’s monthly board meeting Friday, Komsa and other members expressed concerns about the future of the pipeline proposal.

Komsa said frustration is growing among local developers.

“They’re saying the pipe that’s coming into the city is too small to expand future services,” he said. “This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this, but we’ve heard it now as an official request to come before board. We’ll do some research, find out exactly what the problem is and find out what the next step would be.”

MacKenzie, who most recently worked as executive director of an economic development corporation in Groton, Conn., said he was all too familiar with the challenges of rising hydro and energy costs.

“In my last region, electricity costs rotated second or third highest in the country, and that includes Hawaii,” said MacKenzie. “Dealing with  a higher cost environment, we have experience with that. The thing that concerns me more is whether there is enough capacity because you can target industries where cost isn’t as important, but reliability, access and supply can be more so.

“It’s one of the issues that we’ll jump on.”

The pipeline proposal is still going through the energy board review process, said Andrea Stass, spokeswoman for Union Gas. “The board is currently conducting an interrogatory — a process that allows intervenors in the case to ask questions of the utility. The process has started and is expected to go on for a number of weeks.”

Once it’s complete, the OEB will take time to consider the application and render its decision, said Stass.