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Utilities: SCE&G looks at economics of gas lines on Waccamaw Neck

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A utility expects to have a study completed this month on the feasibility of supplying natural gas to the Waccamaw Neck. The review was prompted by a request from the town of Pawleys Island.

The town is about 15 miles away from the closest gas main, according to Eric Broomhower, public affairs manager for South Carolina Electric & Gas, which is conducting the study.

“Anytime we’re looking at a specific geographical area we do an economic assessment,” Broomhower said.

SCE&G is an investor-owned utility company that has over 300,000 natural gas customers in the state. It serves Georgetown and portions of Horry County.

To determine its return on the investment, the utility will look first at the potential for commercial customers, Broomhower said. “It would be unusual for it to be economically viable to extend a gas line into an area that didn’t have a commercial load,” he said.

It will also look at the prospects for new development where the infrastructure for gas can be installed during construction. “It’s much more expensive to go in and retrofit a home,” Broomhower said.

The availability of natural gas could give a boost to new construction, said Boyd Johnson, the Georgetown County planning director.

“Fresh Market really wanted gas. They were surprised I think that it was not available,” he said.

The grocery store opened in Pawleys Island this summer.

“I remember thinking, ‘I hope this doesn’t cost us the project,’ ” Johnson said.

Natural gas could even help residential construction, he said. “It would be a good thing to have,” Johnson said. “You would think there would be enough development in Pawleys Island-Litchfield that SCE&G would want to come down that way.”

The idea was prompted by Pawleys Island Town Council’s discussion of underground utilities. Electric and cable television lines were moved below ground along a section of Myrtle Avenue this year. The council decided in October to consider a project to do the same thing on the rest of the island.

Council Member Glennie Tarbox suggested the town look at getting natural gas service, saying it’s cheaper and more efficient than electricity. “It might be worth looking into,” he said.

Mayor Bill Otis wrote to Keller Kissam, vice president of operations for SCE&G. He got a phone call the next day from Kissam saying the utility hadn’t looked at the area in awhile, but would do a study.

“He thought it was worth another look,” Otis said. “That’s a great response for our folks; on the island and on Waccamaw Neck.”

Otis said he wouldn’t mind having natural gas in his house. “I like gas. I think gas makes a lot of sense,” he said.

That’s the attitude that SCE&G wants to hear. If it finds sufficient commercial potential, the utility could go door-to-door to survey homeowners.

“A lot of our focus, because of the economics of it, is to go into areas that are targeted for new development,” Broomhower said. “The economics aren’t quite as strong going into an area that’s already developed.”

Along with gas mains and service lines to buildings, the project would also require compression stations to keep the gas under pressure, Broomhower said.

SCE&G will try to assess “firm usage,” he said. Will customers convert stoves, hot water heaters and clothes dryers to gas?

“I don’t know how it’s going to net out on this particular issue,” Broomhower said. He expects the utility to make a formal response to Otis’ enquiry in the next couple of weeks.

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