DAYTON — The Tongue River Valley Joint Powers Board, which is seeking to bring natural gas service to Dayton, Ranchester and areas in between, has begun to conduct an economic analysis and an assessment of public support for its project.
On Friday, the board mailed out 2,000 surveys to residents in the Tongue River Valley and along both proposed pipeline routes from Sheridan. The 18-question survey will gauge the interest of area residents in converting from electric or propane heat — for homes and water heaters — to natural gas.
Questions on the survey gather information about current heat and water heater sources, how many gallons of propane are used annually by the resident, the resident’s highest winter bill for electricity, interest in converting to natural gas, interest in converting irrigation pumps and pivots to natural gas, how much the resident would be willing to pay to convert to natural gas (including converting or replacing appliances), and preferences on billing.
The survey can be mailed back to the board or completed online using a survey ID number found on the mailing. Surveys are due by Jan. 31.
Board Chairman Peter Clark said nearly 40 surveys have been completed online and so far responses are favorable.
The new website for the Tongue River Valley Joint Powers Board is www.trvjpb.org.
In other business, three local representatives from Montana-Dakota Utilities attended the Tongue River Valley Joint Powers Board meeting Wednesday to discuss options for working together.
“They said they were interested in possibly operating the system for us,” Clark said.
The board’s natural gas consultant, who helped bring natural gas to Pinedale, recommended the board seek a local operator for the pipeline once it’s installed for efficient and economic pipeline maintenance. The joint powers board would own the pipeline and would likely contract MDU for services, Clark said, although discussions are in early stages and several details need to be worked out.
Clark said an MDU representative from Billings, Mont., had contacted Dayton Mayor Bob Wood to discuss the pipeline. Wood said the representative would need to meet with the board for discussions.
At this point, the natural gas board does not plan to have MDU install the pipeline. The board has been told it could install the pipeline for approximately $4 million while an estimate from MDU to install the line was $6 million to $8 million.
At the meeting, the board discussed what needs to be done to complete an application to the State Loans and Investments Board for a grant and a loan to complete construction of the pipeline. The board’s consultant will place his professional engineer’s stamp on the application to indicate it is a feasible project. SLIB representatives said that would meet requirements for engineering approval.
The board also discussed its presentation to local legislators at the Legislative Forum Jan. 15. At the forum, Rep. Rosie Berger, R-Big Horn, said she will introduce a bill to get statutory language changed to allow SLIB grants to be given to public entities for natural gas systems and fiber optic internet lines, both of which were not included in the original language as utilities that could be funded by SLIB.
Rep. John Patton, R-Sheridan, and Sen. John Schiffer, R-Kaycee, have signed on as co-sponsors of House Bill 47.
“If we can get that bill through the House, that’s the next road block for us,” Clark said.
Clark said the board will hold a workshop, and possibly a budget hearing, Feb. 20 at Dayton Town Hall. Its next meeting will be Feb. 26.