The delivery of natural gas to five communities along the north shore of Lake Superior could arrive by late 2020.
Some outside-the-box thinking for a new affordable energy solution that began four years ago is now becoming a reality.
In late January, the Ontario government announced it was providing $27 million toward the construction of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in Nipigon with designs on delivering a new fuel alternative to homeowners and businesses in communities struggling with onerous energy costs.
"Back in 2015, when a lot of people saw this project, they probably thought this will never fly," said Daryl Skworchinski, CAO for the Town of Marathon.
"I think it's a good example of what we can accomplish if we're creative and have that stick-to-it mentality in Northern Ontario."
Over the years, residents and small businesses in Marathon, Terrace Bay, Schreiber, Manitouwadge, and Wawa felt they were getting gouged by pricing spikes on fuel oil, propane, and grid power.
An earlier feasibility study estimated the introduction of LNG into these towns will save municipalities, business and homeowners more than $6 million annually.
The area's rugged topography doesn't allow for the expansion of natural gas pipelines into the communities, so they partnered with Northeast Midstream, a southern Ontario energy developer, to work on the economics of tapping into the cross-Canada natural gas pipeline at Nipigon.
LNG is natural gas cooled to minus 162 Celsius which is converted into liquid so it can be safely transported for use as fuel.
The company will build a liquefaction facility this fall, north of the Town of Nipigon, which will be connected by pipeline to the nearby TransCanada main line.
The liquid gas would be trucked to small depots in each community, heated to return the liquid back into gas and distributed by local pipelines into homes, institutional and commercial buildings.
Skworchinski said each community central depot will look very much like a propane depot with big tanks. But instead of home delivery trucks, there will be underground four-inch PVC pipes installed to individual customers, like water mains and laterals.
To determine the customer uptake in each community, Skworchinski said they'll refresh an attachment study from 2016 that indicated between 70 and 80 per cent of the population in the communities would consider converting their home heating systems to natural gas. He feels those numbers are still solid.