Commonwealth Journal

January 4, 2013

Public invited to gas hub workshop

by Bill Mardis
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —  

A Somerset City Council work session at 5:30 p.m. Monday will unveil to councilors what Mayor Eddie Girdler calls the “final preliminary design” of the city’s planned energy hub. The work session, including video presentations, will be at The Center for Rural Development and the public is invited.
Somerset has been approved for an $8.5 million loan through the United States Department of Agriculture’s Community Facilities Program to develop and construct a modernistic energy hub. The computerized energy center, first of its kind in Kentucky, will monitor the city’s vast natural gas pipeline network. The structure also will include a new city hall.
Girdler said there have been some changes in a previously published architect’s rendering of the modernistic building “ ... to integrate it with the master plan for downtown.” New architect’s sketches and photographs will be released during Monday’s work session, the mayor said.
The energy hub will be located at the corner of East Mt. Vernon and College streets on what is now a city parking lot. The area will be expanded by demolition of the former Meece Hardware building on the west side of the parking lot; the former city utilities building on the west side of College Street north of the parking lot; and the current city utilities building on the east side of College Street just north of Somerset City Hall. New city offices will be in the energy center building and the existing city hall facing East Mt. Vernon Street will be torn down to make way for a parking area.
Girdler has previously used “modernistic” to describe the exterior of the three-story energy hub. “There will be lots of circular glass ... plenty of open space,” he noted.,
The center will be energy self-sufficient with an adjacent natural-gas powered generating station that will provide more than enough electricity to operate the facility. Excess electricity produced by the generator will be put in Kentucky Utilities’ electrical grid in a trade-off deal with the city, Girdler said.
“If all goes well with city council, the project will be advertised for bids in about 90 days and a contract award should be let by mid to late summer,” Girdler said.
“Natural gas is being promoted as the energy of the future,” said Girdler. “Somerset’s natural gas business has grown to the point where we can make a major impact on Kentucky and the United States.” Girdler predicted the natural gas expansion will create as many as 2,000 jobs in the region, mostly from Somerset east to Virginia and West Virginia.
Somerset Gas Company manager Dan Henderson, during an earlier interview, explained that Somerset is in a unique position in that its natural gas pipeline to the Texas Eastern terminal in Casey County crosses two other interstate transmission lines. It gives Somerset Gas Service points of connection with three major national gas transmission companies. 
“We’re like an interstate pipeline,” said Girdler, alluding to the city’s expanding natural gas business. “We run high-pressure pipelines ... we have no choice but to change our operations to protect the public.”
Somerset made a major step into the natural gas business when during a natural gas shortage in the 1970s.  The city borrowed $4.5 million from Farmers Home Administration to build a natural gas pipeline into eastern Kentucky. Transmission of natural gas from previously landlocked producers ended frequent natural gas shortages in Somerset and has proven a financial success.