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Wednesday, 03 August 2011 12:51

Natural gas in Maggie may be a long shot, but worth a try

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Maggie Valley’s business community hopes to bring natural gas lines to the valley, but it will hinge on drumming up enough interest from paying customers to making it worth the gas company’s while.

Natural gas is a cheaper form of fuel, whether for heating hotel rooms or powering restaurant ovens. But first businesses must prove there’s enough demand for the gas company to recoup its cost of running gas lines to Maggie.

Natural gas lines run through commercial and industrial areas of Waynesville, but not into Maggie. In fact, natural gas lines don’t even run close to Maggie’s doorstep at the moment.

To reach the town’s main commercial strip, lines would have to be run four miles along U.S. 19 from the end of Russ Avenue to reach the town limits at the intersection with Jonathan Creek. From there, it’s another three miles along the main drag.

That’s a total of seven miles, with a very rough estimate of $2 million.

PSNC, the leading natural gas supplier in the state, met with a couple of business leaders and town officials last week. They didn’t say outright how many future customers it would take to make the lines a go, said Town Manager Tim Barth.

But it would have to be more than a few.

“I think an overwhelming majority of businesses would have to respond and say ‘Absolutely, I would hook on to it if it was available,’” Barth said.

But the natural gas company isn’t the only one that will be crunching numbers in coming weeks. Business owners will have to do a cost-benefit analysis of their own.

While natural gas is cheaper, business have to weigh the upfront costs, such as retrofitting their equipment to burn natural gas and hook-up fees from the gas company.

Businesses could save money over the long run, but it would be contingent on having the money for the upfront investment, Barth said.

“I’m sure the number one question is how much is it going to cost, and then how much would the monthly costs be,” Teresa Smith, president of the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce, said.

But for now, the gas company is merely gauging interest.

“It is very, very preliminary at this point,” Smith said.

The Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce put out a call to businesses in the community last week, encouraging them to fill out a survey from the natural gas company if they think they might be interested. Contact the chamber at 828.926.1696 to find out more.

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