As an economic developer for several decades, I cannot overly emphasize the need for reliable energy in order to sustain our economy and quality of life. I applaud the efforts to encourage and harness more forms of renewable energy sources, however, this will transition cannot occur immediately - it will require years of planning and construction to accomplish.
I specifically speak for the rural region I represent - the Shenandoah Valley. Rural regions are particularly challenged for population growth, job growth, economic diversity and retention of talent. I am privileged to work in a rural region that is fortunately growing in both population and economic prosperity. We have a great quality of life in the Valley, but we also have challenges. Our growth is now outpacing the infrastructure capabilities in our region and this is the most critical in our natural gas infrastructure.
Not to castigate our regulatory environment of the natural gas local distribution companies, but the rules under which the natural gas companies operate disincentivize investment in infrastructure capital expenditures. The natural gas companies are not allowed to recoup investments from the rate payers, thus, in our most rapidly growing part of our region, we cannot serve the location and expansion of our corporate citizens who provide the jobs and investment that make our quality of life possible in our region. For example, this calendar year, the Shenandoah Valley Partnership has received more requests from companies requiring natural gas, in large volumes, than I can remember. Unfortunately, the infrastructure is at capacity and cannot serve the needs of new business without extensive upgrades. One recent example is a company wanting to locate in our fastest growing business/industrial area that requires a higher pressure than exist in the line - this is from the distribution network that serves numerous businesses currently. The investment needed for this upgrade, is prohibitive for the location of the company because the natural gas grades represent approximately two-thirds their anticipated capitol expenditure for the operation. Another project looking at the same site required a volume such that it would have require $150 million to upgrade the same infrastructure. I am not being facetious when I make this statement: Almost every project that requires natural gas in my regions starts with the discussion of $5+ million to serve the site/industry. This is an untenable situation for any region that has a natural gas distribution network, moreover for a rural region that is growing. We cannot afford to stifle our growth.
I ask that Virginia explore opportunities to consider regulatory changes, supplement existing programs, i.e., the Virginia Business Ready Site Program, or create a mechanism that will assist in the upgrading of natural gas infrastructure in Virginia. Simply put, our future depends upon it.