Businesses and consumers alike in towns in Fermanagh, Tyrone and Londonderry are set to benefit from natural gas as the utility came a step closer to the west. Mutual Energy, based in Belfast, and English company Scotia Gas have been chosen to extend Northern Ireland's natural gas network to 40,000 customers in the north and west of the region in a project worth £200m.
he firms were selected as the "preferred applicants" to work together to implement the two phases of the Gas to the West pipeline project, following a recent tendering process.
The companies are set to be granted a licence to extend the gas infrastructure to Dungannon, Coalisland, Cookstown, Magherafelt, Omagh, Strabane, Enniskillen and Derrylin.
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster revealed the Executive would be providing a grant worth up to £32.5m to support the firms to build the main pipelines.
The identities of the firms were confirmed yesterday in a consultation paper by the Utility Regulator.
Mid-Ulster MLA Patsy McGlone said the arrival of gas would be welcome news for people in the areas. He said he had very recently met business people whose chief concern was energy costs.
"They are having to pay high costs for electricity and anything that contributes to a reduction in those costs would be very welcome".
The development, he said, would also provide alternatives to householders.
"Though rural areas won't be able to avail of this for the foreseeable future, for those on the line and who have the option it will provide a bit of a cheaper option to heat their homes."
He said the new energy option was highly anticipated and "doesn't come a moment too soon particularly for our elderly and vulnerable people".
He said many elderly people have to "weigh up whether to put a loaf on the table or put the heating on".
The companies will co-operate to deliver the two phases of the scheme, which includes a high pressure pipeline and a low pressure distribution network which will feed gas to individual connections.
Mutual will spearhead the high pressure part, while Scotia will develop the low pressure element.
The minister said: "I am fully committed to encouraging extension of the gas network where this is economically viable.
"As the cleanest burning fossil fuel, natural gas offers a greener, more efficient and convenient alternative to oil and coal.
"It will help to lower manufacturing and production costs for companies and improve business competitiveness.
"In addition, it will provide domestic consumers with greater choice and benefits such as easier budgeting of energy costs by opting for a gas pre-payment meter. Once the Utility Regulator's competition is complete, I look forward to the formal award of the new gas conveyance licences which will allow the developers to obtain planning and other consents."
She added she hoped to see the start of works on the ground to provide the new gas networks "as soon as possible".
The Consumer Council for Northern Ireland declined to comment on the issue until the culmination of a public consultation period. A spokeswoman said the consultation period would continue for eight weeks, when it would then release a statement.