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Work group explores possibilities for natural gas in Estacada

Natural gas might make its way to Estacada.

Spurred by legislation passed last year, a work group of politicians, utilities and local jurisdictions is exploring ways to bring natural gas service to areas of Oregon such as Estacada that do not have it.

The legislation, Senate Bill 32, says access to natural gas as a heating and industrial fuel source is a vital asset for preserving local economies, enlarging tax bases and creating further economic opportunities within a community.

The work group consists of Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, Rep. Bill Kennemer, R-Oregon City, Clackamas County Commissioner Martha Schrader, Lake County Commissioner Ken Kestner, Veneta city administrator Ric Ingham, Danelle Romain of the Oregon People’s Utility District Association, Joe Westby of Ferrellgas/Blue Rhino, Dan Kirschner of the Northwest Gas Association and Etta Lockey of Pacific Power.

The group had its first meeting last week.

“Essentially, we’re asking, ‘How do we achieve SB 32? How would we see service extended?’” Kirschner said.

While natural gas is relatively inexpensive, getting it to customers is not. One of the main topics is how to finance natural gas pipelines — the biggest hindrance in bringing it to Estacada.

NW Natural estimates it would cost $13 million to connect Estacada to a main line, said Gary Bauer, the utility’s director of government and community affairs. The pipeline would be 13 miles long, he said, likely starting at Highway 212 and Southeast Richey Road.

“The biggest issue is the initial cost of getting the pipeline,” Bauer said. “We’d need to look at how many customers we would need to recover that initial cost.”

Bauer noted that 11 years ago, Coos Bay financed its natural gas expansion with bonds and lottery funds.

“We all thought it was important for the future,” Coos Bay Mayor Crystal Shoji said. “Every city should be able to have it as an option.”

Could help industries

Estacada officials believe natural gas can help spur industrial growth.

“We feel it would be really important (to have natural gas), particularly in the industrial park,” said City Manager Denise Carey. “We’re excited to have Schrader and Kennemer as proponents for us.”

“I’m really excited to see the results of the work group,” added Terra Wilcoxson, the city’s economic development manager.

Kennemer said the benefits of natural gas for Estacada’s industrial park would extend beyond city limits.

“There is a shortage of industrial land in Clackamas County,” he said.

Carey and Wilcoxson hope to see natural gas throughout the city, and not just in the industrial park.

Wilcoxson said it would benefit existing businesses that chose to switch over because it is less expensive than electricity or propane for heating and industrial uses.

Kennemer sees value in the job creation that natural gas would likely bring.

“As a rural area, there are limited local employment opportunities. . . we want people to be able to live, work and play in their communities, so job creation is important,” he said.

The work group is scheduled to meet again March 15. They will submit their findings to a legislative interim committee by September.

Kennemer emphasized that the cities have a voice in the process.

“We’ll create a model and ask them if they’re interested in it,” Kennemer said.

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