Jackson, MI-based Consumers Energy has experienced a surge of customer interest in its largest natural gas distribution pipeline system expansion in a decade — 36 miles — in Secord Township and three other jurisdictions in the north-central, lower peninsula portion of the state.

“We’re bullish; there has been good, strong interest so far,” a utility spokesperson told NGI Friday, noting that Consumers’ also has another potential distribution system expansion in the north part of the Detroit metropolitan area in Oakland County.

Separately, late last year, following Michigan’s governor’s endorsement for natural gas as a fuel for economic revival, Consumers said it was building a 700 MW gas-fired power plant in Genesee County (see Daily GPI, Jan. 7).

Consumers’ expansion is driven by low natural gas prices, and the utility earlier this month said it planned further cuts in its retail gas utility rates — up to 15% — following a 10% cut last winter. The price cut, part of an annual fuel cost adjustment, will be across the board — residential, small business, commercial and industrial.

“In April, our gas rates will be at their lowest level in a decade,” the spokesperson said.

Since its kickoff last August, the expansion program has drawn nearly 40% of the estimated 1,300 eligible residential and business customers, the bulk of whom are in Secord Township, with the rest scattered in three other townships ( Buckeye, Hay and Clement), the spokesperson said.

Calling it a great “initial response,” Consumers’ Josnelly Aponte, lead gas customer administrator on the program, said the utility now can move into initial design activities on the expansion project. Initially, it was estimated each added gas utility customer would have to pay a one-time $2,632 charge for the pipeline expansion and $200 for a connection. The spokesperson was unsure whether inclusion of all possible customers in the program would driven down those costs.

“We will continue to actively recruit customers for the project this year,” Aponte said. Construction work is scheduled to begin later this year.

The initial work will involve connection of customers to existing distribution pipeline facilities in Gladwin, the population center of Secord Township, the spokesperson said. Other heavily populated areas will also be involved in the initial work.

Consumers has reiterated that it is working closely with township officials, and a Secord Supervisor, Colin Combs, has lauded the work because it is expected to give residents and businesses in the area their first chance to have gas service.

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