Two key legislators in the Pennsylvania General Assembly introduced a pair of bills on Wednesday designed to make natural gas service available to more consumers in the state.

Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Chester) and Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) said the bills (SB 738 and SB 739) call on the state government to assist with the extension of natural gas distribution lines to customers that are either not currently being served or are under-served by utilities.

“Pennsylvania is fortunate to have access to the abundant resources of the Marcellus Shale formation,” Pileggi said at a press conference on March 26. “We should encourage and make smart investments so that the affordable energy provided by natural gas is available to as many Pennsylvanians as possible. These bills will foster economic growth across the state.”

SB 738, also known as the Natural Gas Consumer Access Act, would require every natural gas distribution utility operating in the state to submit a three-year plan to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC). The plan would outline each utility’s strategy for extending and expanding natural gas lines.

The first three-year plan would be due to the PUC on Jan. 1, 2014, with additional plans required every two years after that. SB 738 would empower the PUC to approve, reject or revise the plans, but the commission could also order a utility to submit a revised plan. The PUC would also have the power to conduct periodic reviews.

SB 738 would also create a system to expedite expansion or extension projects if there are large numbers of residential, commercial or industrial customers who want service, or if an economic development corporation — as part of a development project that would create 30 or more jobs — wants service.

“There is widespread interest in seeing locally produced natural gas used locally to benefit our area businesses and homeowners,” Yaw said.

The second bill, SB 739, would amend the state’s Alternative Energy Investment Act and provide $15 million in grant money so schools, hospitals and small businesses can be serviced by natural gas. The grants, issued through the Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA), could pay for up to half of the expansion or extension projects. The CFA would give priority to applications that will result in adjoining commercial or residential properties utilizing natural gas.

Both bills have been referred to the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, which Yaw chairs.