By Alicia Couch Payne
The City of Buford has been a little island by itself in northern Gwinnett for over a century. For much of that time, it’s neighbors did not have the same needs in terms of supplying public utilities to its residents like Buford. Buford has been an industrial and retail hub since it’s earliest years and the industry spurred Buford to create their own power and gas departments to supply the needs of the city at a time when other utility companies would not come all the way to northern Gwinnett. Buford’s electrical department was created in 1912 and its gas department was founded in 1952.
Buford borrowed money that year to build a four-inch pipeline that tapped into the mainline in Monroe. This line was shared with Sugar Hill but in the 1960s, Sugar Hill traded their interest in the line for a piece of equipment that was needed at the time. Once regulations changed in the 1990s, Buford’s leadership saw the need and potential growth in the area and was able to use bonds to pay for a 10-inch line to run to Monroe. Before too long, that 10-inch line paid for itself and later paid for the 16-inch line that is in place today that runs out to the Dacula-Harbins Road area. Buford also picked up a second metering location or place where Buford taps into the main supply lines that run through North Georgia.
The Gas Department for the City of Buford as it is today is completely debt free and is a great revenue source for the City. The Gas Department has 22 employees and supplies over 40,000 customers. On average, Buford adds an additional 1,200 customers annually. The gas lines cover a 44-mile area which runs through northern Gwinnett, Hall, Jackson, Barrow, and Walton counties. It is the third largest municipal gas supplier in the state of Georgia, behind Austell who is first and Lawrenceville who is second.
Customers of Buford Gas enjoy rates that are significantly lower than competitors like Atlanta Gas Light and others. Several factors contribute to the savings that Buford offers to customers. One of the biggest factors is that Buford is an independent gas supplier and buyer. It is a part of the Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia, which assists in day-to-day pipeline delivery operations and safety regulations. Buford operates through gas contracts with suppliers and also contracts for Winter peak gas supply services with City staff managing those purchases. Buford leaders watch what natural gas is trading at daily and when they come across a good deal, the City Manager is authorized to buy gas at the cheaper rates. Many Gas Authority members rely on the Authority to negotiate for their gas purchases. To put that into perspective, years back when natural gas prices skyrocketed, the Gas Authority was paying around $7.50/mcf while Buford was paying under $5/mcf. Buford has self-directed contracts as much as five years into the future.
The gas pipeline system is compact and has been formed to where it requires less maintenance than others. Thus requiring fewer employees to oversee and maintain their system. They built their system with longevity and growth in mind. The last major factor contributing to the lower rates is the fact that Buford Gas is completely debt-free which means their customers are not paying financing interest and fees.
Using data released by the Georgia Public Service Commission comparing The City of Buford Gas versus Atlanta Gas Light Marketer Variable Rates and other providers based on a typical Georgia residential customer’s average usage of 717 therms for the period January 2019, Buford was cheaper than AGL Marketer, Georgia Natural Gas, by $509 on an annual basis when all costs were included and $59 cheaper than the next lowest provider, Kratos Gas and Power.
As growth continues, City officials anticipate that Buford Gas will have more customers than Lawrenceville and become the second largest municipal gas supplier in the state of Georgia in the future. Buford’s coverage area is larger than Lawrenceville’s and the land area is not maxed out building wise. The system infrastructure can handle double what it currently does so growth is not a problem for them.
City officials past and present have had the vision and drive to build the gas department to what it is today. They have put in countless hours to learn the ins and outs of the gas business from the logistics, trading of the gas, regulations, and so on. Their hard work is paying dividends to the residents of Buford today. It is the city’s primary money-maker which in turn helps to fund Buford’s top-notch schools and facilities. The money made from gas pays for the extras that residents enjoy.