Enstar, community discuss details involved in switch to natural gas

By McKibben Jackinsky

Staff writer

For Homer residents following the progress to bring natural gas to Homer, some of what was said at the Enstar Natural Gas community meeting at the Homer High School commons on Jan. 9 was familiar. Some of it, however, was new and offered more details.

For starters, Charlie Pierce, Enstar’s southern region manager, announced the establishment of a construction office in Homer.

The office is located at 345 Sterling Highway, Suite 104.

“It’s a construction office for the trunk link, so (the hours) are variable,” said Pierce, referring to the line that will bring natural gas from Anchor Point to the city of Homer and Kachemak City.

Working out of that office will be Chet Frost, the project’s construction manager. Frost has worked with Enstar’s engineering department in Anchorage. Plans call for Frost to reside in Homer.

“He’s been with Enstar for several years and the last project he worked on was the CINGSA (Cook Inlet Natural Gas Storage Alaska) facility,” said Pierce. “He was an engineer on that project.”

Enstar also is in the process of hiring a key accounts agent to support the installation of services lines, lines to individual properties, from the trunk line. That person also will work out of the Homer office.

“We’re looking at within a month of having someone hired and in the training process of providing that service,” said Pierce. “Obviously as the trunk line goes in, there will be folks along the way that have a desire to connect and need the ability to do that in person.”

Renovations and cleanup of the office space are underway. There are no phones at this time, but will be soon. Once installed, the phone numbers will be posted on Enstar’s website.

Questions were raised at the meeting concerning the service line installation cost to each property of $1,290 for the first 100 feet and $2 for each additional foot. That price reflects an annual adjustment based on construction costs. John Sims, Enstar’s manager of corporate communications and customer service, said anyone signing up in 2013, even though the service line might not be installed until 2014, would pay that rate whether the rate increases or decreases.

“I’m glad he did that. It encourages folks to apply and gives us a better idea of the work we’ll have,” said Pierce. 

The charge to install a meter is based on the amount of natural gas used per customer.

“What I’d say is that the average residential cost on a meter is about $200,” said Pierce. “That gives everyone in a residential house an idea. Some of those larger residential homes may be more than that. We’ll calculate it when we determine the size (of the house) and how much gas is delivered to a home.”

Meters are set once an appliance is in place and ready to be used.

“So, when you have a gas-fired appliance piped and ready to fire and turn on, call Enstar,” said Pierce. “You can still have a service line to your house, but before we set a meter you’ll have to have an appliance ready to fire.”

Pierce had a suggestion to help property owners convert to gas: plan ahead.

• Bring the service line up to your house;

• Look at where you will have gas-fired appliances;

• Do some measuring to determine how much piping you’ll need;

• Save up to pay for the piping;

• Hire a plumber to come in and do the piping; and

• One at a time, change out appliances.

“Maybe one of the first things you do in that plan is look at some comparisons of Enstar Natural Gas prices compared to propane, oil and electric,” said Pierce. “Look at those cost differentials and determine how long it could take you to recover what all those appliance costs will be.”

While some property owners will make a complete conversion to natural gas at one time, others will do it a step at a time over the course of several years. Enstar personnel can help property owners decide the best approach.

“It can be overwhelming, but I think we can make it real simple for them,” said Pierce. “There’s a progression to this thing.” 

At a future community meeting, time and date to be determined, Enstar representatives will address code concerns and what property owners should or shouldn’t do, what does and doesn’t work and what are best practices.

Recently completed and available on the Enstar website are three videos to help potential customers understand more about what is involved in switching to natural gas: mainline installation, service line installation and residential meter set. They can be viewed at www.enstarnaturalgas.com.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at amckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.