Natural gas metre

Heritage Gas says it can connect an extra 400 homes a year under the new plan. (CBC)

Heritage Gas says it wants to extend natural gas to more homes in Nova Scotia and it's prepared to spend $1 million a year to do that.

The company is asking the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board for changes that would make it easier for homeowners in Halifax, Amherst and Oxford to get natural gas. Those areas already have access to natural gas pipelines.

Heritage Gas is also proposing changes to the feasibility test that would allow more neighbourhoods to be eligible for the natural gas hookup. The company says it will no longer expect every homeowner on the block to sign a sales contract and expressions of interest will now be considered.

"It basically accelerates our ability to advance projects," said Chris Smith, the vice-president of finance.

"We're not planning on making any rate change to accommodate this but it's just that our success to date allows us a little more flexibility."

Heritage Gas estimates the $1 million will allow retrofits for an additional 400 older homes — that would otherwise not meet the feasibility test — to be connected to natural gas each year.

Over the last decade, the gas distributor has connected 20,000 customers in a few areas of the province.

But the changes don't go far enough to satisfy some who have been trying to get pipelines down their streets for years.

"It's a laudable effort," said Peter Allen, who is a potential customer.

"But I would still say it's woefully insufficient in terms of getting natural gas — which belongs to the people — to the people so that we can consume it in our homes and not use expensive fuel oil or electricity."

Allen said more people could have gas if the regulator lowered its 11 per cent rate of return to nine per cent — which is the rate of return for Nova Scotia Power shareholders.

But Heritage Gas said that wouldn't cover costs, but it will consider investing up to $5 million more a year, if the UARB approves this first step.