Proposed natural gas line projects and expansion policies of Elkin-based Frontier Natural Gas Co. and the cost of converting from propane to natural gas were discussed during the Aug. 9 Wilkes Economic Development Corp. board meeting.

As a regulated entity of the N.C. Utilities Commission, Frontier is required to use a feasibility model that considers how far a gas line can be extended without requiring that a prospective new customer help pay for the extension, said Kim Foley, Frontier sales associate. This payment is called a “contribution in aid of construction.”

Foley said one of the factors used in the feasibility model to determine if customer contribution toward the extension is needed is amount of propane already used by the prospective new customer.

She said there is no cost to connect if the home is 50 feet or less from a main line, regardless of the amount of natural gas it would use. “If you are 100 or 150 feet away and all you have is gas logs or a space heater, there would be some cost but I would have to use the feasibility model to determine how much.”

Foley said a homeowner is responsible for getting a local county or city permit to connect and for installing houseline piping to the Frontier meter outside the house. Hookup isn’t required unless a contract is signed.

Foley went door to door in the Beacon Ridge subdivision of Wilkesboro to determine interest about two years before Frontier and conducted a feasibility study of this area.

Foley said that because of the larger volume of gas used by poultry farms, they typically don’t have to pay a Contribution In Aid of Construction.

Wilkes EDC President LeeAnn Nixon said the Wilkes EDC can help Frontier hold community meetings to gauge public interest in expanding to certain areas.

Nixon said that a few year ago, Mount Airy secured an infrastructure grant from the state to fund part of the cost of extending Frontier lines to an industrial park to help a company there expand and add jobs.

North Wilkesboro Commissioner Joe Johnston, who represents the town board on the EDC board, said the town board is always interested in expansion of natural gas in North Wilkesboro. He said he was glad to get natural gas at his company, furniture manufacturer Johnston Casuals.

Johnston said anything Frontier can share about its expansion plans would be helpful.

John Kilby of Yadkin Valley Motor Co. said the company experienced significant savings when it switched from oil and propane to natural gas several year ago.

Foley said switching from propane to natural gas usually reduces fuel costs by 50-60%.

Foley said the cost of converting a home now fueled entirely by propane to natural can likely be recouped in about two months due to the lower cost of natural gas.

Foley added that the cost of upfitting a home that uses electricity to natural gas depends on appliances and other equipment the homeowner intends to convert to run on natural gas instead of electricity.

Local building contractor Randy Huffman of North Wilkesboro, speaking from the audience, suggested seeking grant funds to install natural gas lines in conjunction with projects such as the upcoming widening of N.C. 115 and installation of a sewer line along N.C. 18 North, both in and near North Wilkesboro. “Why aren’t we applying for grants to help expand this?”

Working from one end of the state to the other, Huffman converts homes, businesses and farms from propane to natural gas.

He said getting the word out about the savings available from switching to natural gas throughout Wilkes and working together to accomplish this is critical to future generations of Wilkes residents.

Frontier has an exemplary safety record, said Jeff Whitaker, the company’s purchasing manager and also Elkin Rescue Squad chief.

Whitaker stated that the natural gas safety training he makes available has been received well by fire departments in Wilkes.

Frontier’s main natural gas line comes up U.S. 421 from the east.

Frontier is one of five natural gas distribution companies operating in five states. The corporate office is Ohio-based holding company Hearthstone Utilities Inc.

The N.C. Utilities Commission, which regulates natural gas companies, awarded a franchise to Frontier to provide natural gas in Surry, Yadkin, Wilkes, Watauga, Ashe and Warren counties about 20 years ago.

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