AMHERST, N.S. – It has been nearly 13 years since natural gas first began flowing to Amherst’s home and businesses, and a new report on the economic and environmental benefits of natural gas distribution in Nova Scotia shows how Heritage Gas is one of Nova Scotia’s leading economic drivers - not to mention a significant contributor to the success in reducing GHG emissions.
“Natural gas in Amherst and Nova Scotia has gone exceedingly well. We started with just one customer back in 2003 and we started very early on with Amherst,” Heritage Gas CEO John Hawkins told the Amherst News. “Amherst was an early adapter to natural gas and showed real leadership.”
Heritage Gas commissioned Gardner Pinfold to examine the impact it has had on the economy and its contribution to the environmental goals for Nova Scotia. Hawkins said the company knew it has made significant contributions to the provincial economy and to environmental sustainability over the last 15 years, but it hadn’t measured the extent of the impact until now.
The report determined that since 2003 Heritage Gas has contributed $347 million in added-value (GDP) to the Nova Scotia economy. In addition, greenhouse gas emissions savings from natural gas use over the same time period was the equivalent to taking 315,000 cars off the road for one year.
Starting with just one customer in 2003, Heritage Gas has grown to deliver energy to many of the largest industries and employers in Nova Scotia, including eight universities and colleges and major hospitals in Halifax, Dartmouth, Amherst and New Glasgow.
Over the last 15 years, energy delivered by Heritage Gas has grown to be equivalent to 22 per cent of the energy delivered by the provincial electric utility.
“To grow that much in that relatively short period of time is impressive,” he said.
He said there are 529 customers in Amherst, including nearly 300 homes and more than 230 businesses.
Hawkins said the company is looking to bring natural gas to Antigonish while Truro is also in its future. He hopes to bring gas to Antigonish in the next couple of years.
“Truro is also an area we’d like to get to, but we’re very much open to trying to serve where there is a customer demand for the service,” he said, adding the company also services other larger customers across the province with compressed natural gas. “Even where it’s impractical to service an area with a long pipeline we can get to businesses and communities with compressed natural gas by trailer.”
Hawkins said natural gas has worked in Nova Scotia because of the savings it brings to customers. For example, companies in Amherst’s industrial park are seeing savings because furnace/fuel oil is two times more expensive than natural gas while propane is 1.5 times more expensive.
“While we’re not competitive every week of every year, on average we have been able to offer our customers significant financial savings. We estimate internally, over 15 years we have saved our customers several hundred million dollar relative to the alternative fuel choices,” he said. “That’s why during our history we were growing at 10 to 15 per cent. The challenge for us has been meeting the demand of customers looking to have natural gas.”
Along with the economic savings, Hawkins says natural gas has a substantially lower carbon footprint than other sources such as oil and coal.
Although Nova Scotia’s offshore natural gas supply may be getting low, Hawkins said there will always be natural gas now that the infrastructure is in place through agreements to bring gas from other areas and storing it here.
“In 2014, knowing the offshore was in decline, we entered into a 15-year agreement on the Atlantic Bridge to bring gas in from the U.S. while we also entered into an agreement with Alton Natural Gas storage facility to store gas once it’s here. That will bring customers considerable savings once that facility is constructed,” he said. “Recently we entered into another agreement to bring gas from a stable low-cost supply in southern Ontario. We’re well prepared to replace the natural gas we used to get from the offshore with natural gas from other areas.”
As well, Hawkins said Heritage Gas purchases goods and services from 591 businesses in Nova Scotia which helps to build capacity and drive economic growth opportunities across the province.
In Amherst, Hawkins said, its representatives Andrew Reid and Jason Rhinas purchase almost all their supplies locally. He said both are also very active in the community.
“Their vehicles, their building supplies, their tools are bought locally. They use local excavation, landscaping and trucking services,” he said. “It’s providing economic benefit in terms of spinoff.”