Rome and Floyd County’s economic development effort has a brighter future thanks to a public-private partnership that is bringing a $22.3 million natural gas pipeline upgrade to western Floyd County.

Representatives from the Georgia Public Service Commission met with Georgia Power, Atlanta Gas Light, International Paper and local government leaders at the Rome Floyd Chamber to laud the decision to replace a 4-inch natural gas line from West Rome out to the International Paper mill with a 12-inch gas line.

Bryan Batson, president of Atlanta Gas Light said the project would be done in phases, starting this year and continuing into 2021.

“Energy is the life-blood of any community as far as jobs go,” Batson said. The pipeline will extend for approximately nine miles from Coosawattee Avenue out to the paper mill.

The pipeline is being funded thanks to a major contribution from the Georgia Public Service Commission’s Universal Service Fund, along with money from Atlanta Gas Light and International Paper

Atlanta Gas Light will contribute $11.7 million to the project, which is recoverable through the normal rate-making process. International Paper will contribute $1.5 million, financed over ten years. The Universal Service Fund will contribute approximately $9.1 million, which when taxes and financing fees are added will come to approximately $10.6 million.

According to the PSC documents filed in January of 2019, International Paper plans to convert two coal-fired boilers to natural gas.

Public Service Commission Vice Chairman Tim Echols said the PSC is constantly thinking about economic development and looking for ways to make communities more resilient and more sustainable.

Fuel switching the International Paper plant from coal to natural gas is just a continuation of a trend in industry across the state, according to Echols, but getting the Floyd County project done has not been an easy process.

The PSC gets similar requests from communities across the state “but your folks put together a team and you came to us. You brought us up here. You gave us a mill tour. You showed us the impact that this was going to make in the community — and it carried the day.”

“You had a bulldog consistency to go get it done,” Batson said. “The load here is going to more than double. Economically, Atlanta Gas Light could not have done this...Government really served a purpose, which is, it stepped in brought parties together pound a solution and made an investment in a community that will better lots and lots of lives for many years to come.”

Luis Pereira, the new mill manager at International paper said the project would make the plant more environmentally friendly.

“This kind of investment makes the business cleaner, more attractive and we can help the local community,” Pereira said.

Pereira told community leaders meeting at the chamber approximately 550 employees at IP are its most valuable asset. Its very important to the company to provide them the opportunity to work in a long term sustainable business.

“This is a great project with great collaboration that is going to benefit our entire community,” said Floyd County Commission Chairman Scotty Hancock. Rome Mayor Bill Collins agreed, saying this gas line upgrade was proof that government can work together with private industry to make great things happen.