(Monte McNaughton, Twitter)

Minister of Infrastructure Monte McNaughton has announced it is expanding access to natural gas in Chatham-Kent.

McNaughton, along with MPP Rick Nicholls, made the announcement on Monday morning at Cedarline Greenhouses outside of Dresden.

“Our priority is creating and protecting good jobs for the people of Ontario,” McNaughton said in a press release.

“By lowering energy costs, we’re making businesses more competitive and sending the clear message that Ontario is open for business to create good jobs.”

Provincial officials say the government’s new program is intended to enable natural gas expansion in the community of Chatham-Kent, including the construction of two new transmission pipelines and supporting distribution mains.

The Chatham-Kent project could expand natural gas to an estimated 1,300 households and 200 businesses.

“The greenhouse sector of our agri-economy has been doubling in size every six years and this initiative by the Government of Ontario, Enbridge, Cedarline Greenhouses and Chatham-Kent ensures that growth will continue,” stated Darrin Canniff, the Mayor of Chatham-Kent.

“Strategic investment in infrastructure pays dividends and we will continue to invest in our community. Chatham-Kent remains a leader in agricultural innovation and is evidence that we continue to grow for the world. “

Provincial officials say the municipality estimates the additional natural gas capacity could bring an estimated 1,400 jobs in the greenhouse industry alone.

Switching from propane, electric heat or oil to natural gas can also save an average residential customer between $800 and $2,500 a year.

“The gas lines we are celebrating today will increase the local capacity of natural gas by the equivalent of an additional 350 acres of greenhouse,” stated Greg Devries, President and CEO of Truly Green Farms and Cedarline Greenhouses, in a press release.

“For every acre of greenhouse constructed, at least two direct jobs and two indirect jobs are created. This natural gas project is a great example of how infrastructure stimulates the economy.”

Chatham-Kent is the first community to be named as a recipient under the expansion program, which is targeted to begin in summer 2019.

“The Natural Gas Expansion Support Program will help businesses in rural and Northern Ontario, including First Nations, cut energy costs, improve their competitiveness and attract more investment,” stated Greg Rickford, Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, in a press release.

“It will also help expand the natural gas distribution network to households, making life more affordable for families.”

The program, which will be facilitated by the Independent Electricity System Operator, is designed to expand natural gas access to more parts of rural and Northern Ontario, including First Nations communities.

“We have turned away investment in Chatham-Kent in the past because we did not have natural gas capacity,” stated Stuart McFadden, Director of Economic Development Services for Chatham-Kent.

“This pipeline is going to open up great opportunities in our community and create much-needed jobs.”

The Chatham-Kent project is being led by Enbridge Gas Inc., Canada’s largest natural gas distribution utility, which serves approximately 3.7 million residential and business customers in Ontario.

“Expanding access to reliable and affordable natural gas provides a tremendous opportunity to drive economic development and enhance the quality of life and prosperity of Ontario families and businesses,” stated Jim Sanders, Senior Vice-President of Operations for Enbridge Gas, in a media release.

“The government’s announcement today is an important step in expanding access to natural gas in Chatham-Kent and we look forward to moving this project forward.”

Additional projects that are ready to move forward may be eligible to receive funding under the new program, subject to regulatory approval from the Ontario Energy Board.