SPRINGFIELD — The proposed natural gas pipeline for Pembroke Township and Hopkins Park took another step forward Thursday.
A bill sponsored by state Sen. Patrick Joyce, D-Essex, was passed by the Energy and Public Utilities committee following the hearing. Committee members voted 18-0.
It now heads to the full senate.
“This has been called the unknown township,” Hopkins Park Mayor Mark Hodge said during his testimony. “Pass this bill to help make it a diamond in the rough.”
It marked the second week a bill sponsored by local legislators dealing with the pipeline was passed.
State Rep. Jackie Haas, R-Bourbonnais, is the sponsor of a similar bill in the House. It was passed March 22 by the Public Utilities committee and advanced to the full House.
Both pieces of legislation would give Nicor Gas the ability to serve the community of Hopkins Park by installing up to 500 feet of natural gas main per customer in designated hardship areas, which are defined by the U.S. Census Tracts and Department of Housing and Urban Development, at no charge to the served customers.
Nicor Gas’ current tariff only allows the company to install 200 feet per customer at no charge.
The remaining distance would typically be paid for by the residents or community.
At a December 2019 meeting, Nicor officials identified 400 homes and 22 businesses in the village for service in the project, estimated to cost $8 million. While residents would be able to opt in or out of service, Joyce secured $1 million in state funding last year that will cover residents’ costs if they choose to convert their homes to natural gas service.
“The community contribution has been the stumbling block,” Nicor Gas representative Latiesa E. Wallace said when asked by state Sen. Craig Wilcox what has been the holdup for so long.
“This has been an ongoing issue. This is a situation that needs to be rectified,” state Sen. Sue Rezin said.
Before becoming a senator, Rezin was a state representative whose district included Kankakee County.
“You have to have utilities,” she said.
The drive for natural gas service for the village and township has spanned 50 years, Hodge said.
The closest they came to getting the natural gas was 20 years ago, Joyce said. When then Gov. George Ryan, of Kankakee, announced plans to build a women’s prison in the township. The foundation and other work had been done when Gov. Rod Blagojevich pulled the plug.
Joyce, Hodge and Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler all said renewable energy companies have looked at the township, but the cost to bring it to the township is too much.
Companies have said they could locate facilities in Pembroke for $2 million to $3 million. Since there is no main transmission line to the township, the cost jumps to $25 million.
“Natural gas is not the only tool in the belt,” Joyce said. “We want to pursue renewable energy.”
The pipeline project has the backing of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH coalition, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, Kankakee County Board and the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County.