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Bit by bit, Homer customers see new natural gas service -- and lower bills

Michael ArmstrongHomer News
Loren Holmes photo

As natural gas line projects on the lower Kenai Peninsula wind down at the end of the construction season, contractors can check these items off their lists:

• 22 miles of the Anchor Point-to-Homer trunk line;

• 9 miles of the Kachemak City expansion project;

• 37 miles of the city of Homer expansion project nearly complete; and

• The installation of 668 paid service-line applications about 90 percent complete.

Of those customers who paid this year to have service lines installed — that is, lines from distribution lines to homes or businesses — almost half – or 331 customers -- have natural gas service, said John Sims, a spokesman for Enstar Natural Gas.

Some see lower bills

The trunk line has been extended along East End Road to Waterman Drive. There is some work to be completed by the end of the month on East End Road.

With the winter heating season starting, customers have already received one or two bills for service.

“We’ve been getting some calls from customers already about how much they’re saving,” Sims said. “Some residential customers have seen a $20 bill … They’re kind of astounded how small the bill actually has been.”

Stores selling natural gas appliances or installing and converting appliances have had constant work since the beginning of the summer. VBS Heating and Specialty Stoves has sold more than 100 natural gas appliances, said Connie Cavasos, the co-owner with Mark Vial. Vial and assistants have had steady work converting propane appliances to natural gas.

Rick Norvell of Orca Plumbing and Heating said he’s been working seven days a week and sometimes until 8 p.m. doing installations and conversions. He’s booked through January, he said.

Before gas service begins, a customer has to have a working appliance inspected and ready to go. The service line installation involves putting in a gas line from the distribution line to a meter hanger on the building. Once service is ready, Enstar workers will hang the meter, called setting the meter. Sims said Enstar has been doing 20 to 30 meter sets a week as customers get appliances ready.

“We’re essentially waiting for customers to get converted. We’re happy to coordinate,” Sims said of working with contractors. “If they say they’re going to be completed with their conversion, have them give us a call and we’ll be there with a meter set.”

Do-it-yourself problems

Cavasos said one problem VBS Heating has seen is with improperly converted appliances, either from people doing it themselves or hiring workers not licensed to do gas plumbing. VBS won’t sell conversion kits, but some people have bought them elsewhere. An improperly converted gas heater can burn hotter than it’s supposed to and can ruin a machine.

Sims said Enstar also has seen some lines damaged from people digging in yards without calling for a service line locate. Gas service lines are shallower than water lines.

“That’s definitely a concern,” he said. “It’s really important you get your utilities located.”

People can call for a free service line locate by calling 811.

Enstar distribution line contractor Utility Technologies Inc. has started some planning and engineering for the Phase 2 of the build-out on the Homer Spit. Another 33 miles remains to be done for the city build-out in 2014. UTI might start the Spit portion of the project early next year.

“One of the things we’re concerned about obviously is traffic along the Spit,” Sims said. “Anytime we can get it done prior to the tourist season is a good thing.”

The Kenai Peninsula Borough also has received some inquiries for Utility Special Assessment Districts to expand gas service in unincorporated areas of the borough. Enstar regional manager Charlie Pierce is working with some inquiries on East End Road and in the hillside areas, Sims said.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com. Used with permission.