Chesapeake Utilities Corporation’s new Dover campus acts as growth engine and showcase

DOVER — Officially breaking ground on the project back in October 2016, Chesapeake Utilities Corporation’s Energy Lane Campus in Dover — at the Blue Hen Corporate Center — officially opened its doors in late September.
It has now begun to fill its role as the new central Delaware headquarters.
The largest, single business locale in Chesapeake Utilities Corporation’s history, the company claims the approximately $26 million investment exemplifies its commitment to the state and its plans for growth
Shane Breakie, recently appointed assistant vice president of Chesapeake Utilities, said significant downstate expansion over the past several years helped justify the cost of building the new campus.
Converting large energy users like Beebe Healthcare, the Allen Harim processing plant and Dogfish Head Brewery in southern Delaware has ballooned the company’s infrastructure to more than 500 miles of pipeline over the last decade.
Meeting these big consumers with pipeline has had both positive environmental effects and put natural gas within a usable proximity to smaller residential customers, Mr. Breakie said.
“While we were working on expanding to Lewes, we were converting the big customers as we went,” said Mr. Breakie. “Many of them were switching from No. 6 and No. 2 oil to natural gas. Whenever you switch to natural gas from a heavier fuel, you’re reducing your CO2 emissions by a lot right out of the gate.”
The new campus
Situated on a 20.6-acre plot, the campus provides a 56,000 square-foot office building, 33,000 square-foot warehouse and workspace for about 250 employees.
It’s home to the Eastern Shore Natural Gas Company, Chesapeake’s interstate natural gas pipeline subsidiary, Chesapeake Utilities — Chesapeake’s natural gas distribution operations — and the company’s customer care group that services their Delmarva natural gas customers.
The local operation serves an estimated 78,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in Delaware and Maryland.
Centrally located to offer more efficient dispatching personnel and equipment, the new Energy Lane Campus, both consolidated operations and made room for at least a decade of anticipated grown, management says.
Before the building was completed, the company’s employees were working out of four different locations throughout Dover.
In addition to stretching the utility’s reach, there are some important safety features as well. The control room responsible for monitoring their extensive infrastructure got a large upgrade with the new facility.
Once the size of a small office at their previous location, their new state-of-art control room now boasts larger monitors and expanded workspace so their team of 24/7 safety staff can have a more comprehensive overview of their operations.
Pressure and flow data in pipeline that runs from southeastern Pennsylvania all the way to the bottom of the Delmarva peninsula runs through the control room to enable a rapid response to any situations that may arise.
Showpieces
During the design phase of the new facility, practicality was the main concern, but there was some showmanship involved as well. For one, energy efficiency was a priority. The new building has been awarded a Green Globes Certification by the Green Building Initiative for energy saving design features like strategically placed windows and reflective services to drive down usage.
Most attention grabbing, though, are the campus’s new public compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicle fueling station and their array of Yanmar natural gas heat pumps.
The CNG station on site is the only one of its kind on the peninsula, managers say. Natural gas-powered vehicles are claimed to be an alternative to gasoline and diesel vehicles that allegedly reduce “greenhouse gas” emissions by 30 percent.
Cost and abundance are also considerations. American Gas Association research states that driving with natural gas can cut costs by approximately 50 percent.
The national average cost of CNG is about $2.00 per gasoline gallon equivalent. Additionally, it’s said that the natural gas supply is abundant in the U.S., which allegedly boasts a “100-year” supply.
While at the moment it’s not a profit center for the company, managers say the station is important because it both supports businesses and individuals who’ve converted fleet or personal vehicles to use CNG and also helps introduce the “environmentally-friendly” fuel alternative to the area.
“The station is a showpiece right now that we hope that it becomes a revenue generator in the future,” said Mr. Breakie. “There are a few truck drivers that work with Kraft that use CNG that refuel with us regularly and more long-haul trucks and even waste-haulers are starting to convert.
Chesapeake Utilities has already converted nearly a dozen of their service vehicles to use natural gas and even sponsored the Kent County Tourism Corporation’s mobile visitor center — called “The Villager”. The F-250 Ford Transit, which puts in a fair amount of dashboard time, runs on natural gas.
By having the station in a highly-visible spot next to Rt. 1, the company hopes to take advantage of the highly-trafficked Delaware artery.
While using natural gas to heat a home or business isn’t cutting edge, it’s not often the first thing people thing of when it comes to cooling. The campus’s eight rooftop-installed Yanmar natural gas heat pumps both heat and cool the buildings while providing net efficiency in both consumption and maintenance costs, managers say.
“They’re very unique and we’ve been treating them as a sort of showcase for local mechanical engineers who are engaged in a lot of new constuction to sort of give them something to think about,” said Mr. Breakie. “Usually, heat pumps run on an electric motor, but these run on natural gas engines to both heat and cool the buildings efficiently.”
Already said to be one of Dover’s oldest continuously operating businesses — claiming to have been in operation since 1859 — Chesapeake Utilities big bet on the new campus leaves little mystery about their future plans to streamline existing operations and expand service.

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com

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