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Water, Gas and Light Commission to team with MillerCoors on natural gas project

Pipeline to plant could bring $1.1 million annually to utility

WG&L and MillerCoors will split the cost of constructing a natural gas pipeline that will take gas directly from utility facilities to the MillerCoors plant on State Highway 300. (Staff Photo: Laura Williams)

WG&L and MillerCoors will split the cost of constructing a natural gas pipeline that will take gas directly from utility facilities to the MillerCoors plant on State Highway 300. (Staff Photo: Laura Williams)

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WG&L and MillerCoors will split the cost of constructing a natural gas pipeline that will take gas directly from utility facilities to the MillerCoors plant on State Highway 300. (Staff Photo: Laura Williams)

ALBANY — The city’s Water, Gas & Light Commission approved a proposal Thursday that will create a partnership between the utility and the local MillerCoors plant.

The board signed off on an agreement with the beermaker in which WG&L and MillerCoors will split the cost of constructing a natural gas pipeline that will take gas directly from utility facilities to the MillerCoors plant on State Highway 300. Interim Water, Gas & Light General Manager Tom Berry said the overall cost of the gas line would be “in the $800,000 to $1 million range,” but that the utility would quickly recoup that cost.

The agreement caps MillerCoors’ cost on the project at $600,000.

“This is a very good deal for us,” Finance Director John Vansant said of the plan, which Assistant GM Keith Goodin said has been in the works for months. “It will allow us to shed a significant portion of our (natural gas) capacity and bring MillerCoors on as our second-largest customer. We could potentially realize $1.1 million a year in new revenue for our gas department.

“Plus, Miller would become a much greener plant. They’d send a lot less bad stuff into the Southwest Georgia air.”

Berry said MillerCoors wants to have the pipeline in place by the middle of next year.

“This is a big plus all around,” he said. “It helps Miller and it helps us.”

Also at the meeting, the board voted to approve an overhaul of the utility’s existing security lighting policy. Rather than charging potential customers $240 up front to install a pole for security lighting, WG&L will now ask customers to sign a three-year contract to provide the lighting and add $2.50 to their monthly utility bill. There would be no up-front cost to install the light poles.

“This is a long-term plan,” Berry said. “You wouldn’t actually realize any income until the second and third year of a contract, because it costs us around $500 to provide a pole and install the light. But where we have around 6,000 security lights now, we could potentially increase that to between 20,000 and 30,000. Then you’re looking at some good revenue.”

WG&L Light Director Jimmy Norman said demand for security lighting was curtailed when the utility started charging a $240 up-front fee for pole installation.

“When we started charging (for the poles), demand went down significantly,” he said. “People still wanted the security lights, but they didn’t want to pay the $240 up front.”

The WG&L board also voted to join the Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia, a collective much like the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, from which WG&L purchases electricity. Berry said the utility should see natural gas prices stabilize as a part of the 77-member gas authority.

“This move will put us in a better position from an economic development standpoint, and we’ll have some say in how gas is managed here,” he said.

The board initially considered tabling a vote on the matter, which must eventually be approved by the Albany City Commission, until a MGAG representative addressed its questions. But City Manager James Taylor suggested that the board “approve or disapprove” the membership request and meet with gas authority officials before a contract is put in place.

The City Commission must agree to secure any MGAG costs not paid by WG&L.

The board got perhaps the most upbeat financial report of the year from Vansant, who announced at the end of the meeting that he would be leaving Albany Dec. 19 for a position with an Oklahoma City utility. Vansant said three of WG&L’s four departments — light ($124,000), gas ($40,000) and telecommunications ($56,000) — had finished October above their projected budgets.

The finance director also said bad debt for the fiscal year had climbed to $362,000, but he pointed out that the utility’s new deposit policy had not yet been implemented.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, Commissioner Morris Gurr announced that he would not ask the City Commission to reinstate him as part of the WG&L board.

Mayor and WG&L Chairwoman Dorothy Hubbard said, “While I tried to change Commissioner Gurr’s mind, I understand that sometimes it’s time to move on. I thank you on behalf of this board and the city of Albany for your service.”