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Natural gas service goal of Dooley's for group of west central Minnesota communities

CLARA CITY -- A local fuel distributor is looking to provide natural gas service in the communities of Clara City, Raymond, Maynard and Prinsburg, as well as possibly a spur area east of Prinsburg.

Dooley's Petroleum is making presentations to the city councils in the four communities this week and next. The company is willing to invest in a pipeline and natural gas distribution system to serve the communities if the four city councils approve a franchise agreement and create a joint powers board to regulate it, according to Randy Dooley, president of Dooley's.

He is optimistic about gaining approval from the cities, but emphasized that the project is only in its early stages and a final decision has not yet been made.

"As of right now, we are seeing some pretty good support,'' Dooley told the Tribune.

He met with representatives of the communities a few weeks ago to announce the proposal. Representatives of industries in the towns voiced their interest: The price differential between natural gas and other fuel sources -- mainly propane and fuel oil -- is as large as it has ever been. Some of the businesses could see thousands of dollars in energy savings by using natural gas in place of the other fuels, based on their current energy needs.

Dooley also heard from city officials who believe the availability of natural gas service could help them in efforts to recruit new businesses to their communities.

If the four councils approve of the plan, Dooley said the company's next step will be to survey potential large customers in the communities. The company needs to know that there will be a sufficient volume of natural gas sales to support the financial venture.

Dooley said it is critical that all four communities approve and participate as it would take the combined volume to make the project economically feasible.

If it appears so, Dooley's would invest the funds to develop the distribution systems in each community and a pipeline to connect to an existing line. There is a line north of Renville and one north of Olivia that has the capacity needed, he said. The gas would be purchased from Northern Natural Gas.

Clara City and Maynard had explored the possibility of creating municipal utilities and working with Natural Gas Management Services, an unregulated division of then-Northern States Power, to bring natural gas service to their communities in 1999. Voters in the communities did not support the plan.

In this case, Dooley noted that taxpayers would not have any financial liability for the project.

Also, the price differential between natural gas and other fuels is much greater than was the case in 1999, and should serve to interest more potential customers to make the switch.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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