Energy, State Government

Hope Gas makes public the projected cost of its new Morgantown pipeline

MORGANTOWN – Following a Public Service Commission order, Hope Gas has made public the estimated cost of its Morgantown pipeline project. Other information it is seeking to keep confidential – itemized project costs and revenue estimates and maps and drawings – await further PSC action.

Hope estimates the pipeline – which will run a total 30 miles from Wadestown in western Monongalia County eastward to the edge of Morgantown and then northwest to a site near Osage – will cost $177,437,169.

Hope filed its application to build the pipeline on Sept. 22, with cost and revenue information redacted and maps and drawings not included in the public version. Then in an Oct. 12 filing, Hope sought a protective order to keep the information confidential and explained why.

First, one of the project application’s exhibits contains certain highly detailed maps and drawings “that provide precise locations of facilities that should not be disclosed for security reasons.”

Second, another exhibit contains project costs that should remain confidential because certain project work remains subject to a bidding procurement process.

And third, testimony by Craig C. Colombo, Hope’s vice president of gas supply, should be confidential where he discusses estimated revenue from certain services Hope might provide where the pricing for such services is subject to commercial negotiation with customers.

On Oct. 26, PSC staff objected to Hope’s request for the protective order. It said the aggregate cost estimate of the project is a not a trade secret.”

And while Hope is not immediately seeking to recoup the costs of the pipeline, staff said, it plans to in later filings, and customers deserve to know the cost and how it might affect their future bills.

Staff also said that revealing aggregate costs won’t harm negotiations. Hope can still maintain confidentiality on specific line items where it’s seeking competitive pricing.

On the matter of the maps, staff said they are not specific engineering plans and descriptions subject to protection under the Freedom of Information Act. “The public has a substantial interest in viewing these maps in order to gauge what impact this project will have on private property and how it could affect their property values and property usages,” staff said. “The public also has a right to see how the path of this project will impact any public lands if there is such an impact at all.”

In its Nov. 13 order, the PSC denied Hope’s request for protective treatment for total estimated project costs. “The project will involve numerous elements and vendors. It is unlikely that vendors will gain any business advantage over Hope from disclosure of the aggregate total estimated Project cost. The customers’ interest in having a meaningful notice of the total cost of utility projects outweighs the very unlikely risk of harm to Hope’s business negotiations.”

The PSC allowed Hope to keep confidential other information, such as projected revenue from expanded service allowed by the new pipeline, the cost of Columbia Gas building a new interconnection at Wadestown, and the maps and drawings.

The new line would begin at Hope’s interconnect with a Columbia Gas line near Wadestown. Using new and existing Hope right-of-way, it would run 25 miles to the Western edge of Morgantown to connect with other proposed Hope facilities (called Black Night) west of I-79 and Harmony Grove. Hope says about 5.5 miles of that right-of-way is in northern Marion County.

From Black Night, the line would use existing and new third-party rights-of-way to go five miles northwest of Granville to a station called Mineral northwest of Osage.

Hope notes that about 14.5 miles of the project is parallel to existing Hope right-of-way or to other lines, to allow for grouped utilities and making the most of an existing corridor. “This route was selected considering proximity to homes and buildings, topography suited for the size of the pipeline, sensitive resources and the associated crossings, and tie-in locations at Wadestown, Black Knight and Mineral.”

The project would include 30 miles of 16-inch diameter steel gas line and “uprating” of 5.6 miles of existing 12-inch line to accommodate the increased pressure and new gas supply.

Hope estimates that the project will generate about 600 jobs, which will make up about half the project cost. Other major costs are the 30 miles of pipeline and five measurement and regulation stations.

The project is expected to affect 170 landowners and 233 land parcels.

The PSC also set a procedural schedule in the case. Staff and intervenor testimony is due by Dec. 4, with rebuttal testimony due Dec. 13. A public comment hearing is set for Dec. 13 and an evidentiary hearing on Dec. 14. Initial briefs are due Jan. 10 and reply briefs on Jan. 24.