December 23, 2013

Natural gas flows to heat first home in Augusta

Maine Natural Gas and Summit Natural Gas are competing for customers who want to save money by switching fuels.

By KEITH EDWARS Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Dick Gagnon had recently converted his home to propane when he got word, several months ago, that natural gas was not only coming to Augusta, it was going to flow just a few feet from the front door of his Eastern Avenue home.

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Dick Gagnon expects to save $700 a year by switching from propane to natural gas in his Augusta home.

Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

A week and a half ago, that home became Augusta’s first residence to be heated by natural gas, as the fuel started flowing from a Maine Natural Gas pipeline into Gagnon’s home and running his three direct vent space heaters, a clothes dryer and a gleaming new kitchen stove.

“I’m heating with it, cooking with it, and my clothes dryer runs on it,” said Gagnon, who plows snow for Augusta Public Works. “One good thing about it, I don’t have to worry about running out.”

Gagnon said he was already saving money by burning propane after his oil furnace died about a year ago. He expects to save even more, about $700 a year, by switching from propane to natural gas.

The cost of converting the home he shares with his wife from propane to gas was a little more than $2,500.

“It’s going to take a few years to pay it back, I suppose, but it’s here,” Gagnon said. “And it’s staying.”

Peter Bottomley, sales and marketing manager for Brunswick-based Maine Natural Gas, a subsidiary of Iberdrola USA, which also owns Central Maine Power Co., said the cost to convert a home heating system to natural gas can range from about $2,000 to $3,000 to replace a burner within a furnace to $7,000 to $12,000 to replace an entire boiler or furnace with a new high-efficiency gas boiler. He said some chimneys may need to be lined to burn natural gas.

Bottomley said the owners of 63 residential buildings in Augusta have signed up to get gas from Maine Natural Gas, many of which, he said, are multiunit apartment complexes.

Michael Duguay, business development director for Augusta-based Summit Natural Gas of Maine, which is competing for customers in Augusta with Maine Natural Gas and building a pipeline from Windsor through Augusta, north to Madison, said the company has a little more than 200 residential customers in Augusta signed up to take gas from Summit, once it starts flowing gas.

Summit, which started installing its pipeline after Maine Natural Gas crews started working on theirs in the area, has not yet started putting gas through its pipes.

Duguay said the pipeline is undergoing testing and progressing well despite colder than expected weather. He said some residential customers could be getting gas from Summit soon.

Duguay said switching to natural gas from oil could save an average homeowner about $1,500 a year.

“People know natural gas is at a cost advantage and probably will be for a long time,” Duguay said. “Interest has been extremely high.”

OIL DEALER PERSPECTIVE

Marc Lacasse, president of local oil and propane dealer Augusta Fuel Co., which began in Augusta in 1888 as the Augusta Ice Co. then took its current name in 1940, said historically natural gas hasn’t had the current price advantage it holds over oil. He said in New England, in particular, natural gas has generally been more expensive than oil.

“Right now there’s a bit of an economic advantage for someone to be looking at possibly switching over to natural gas,” Lacasse said. “But that hasn’t always been the case. Anything is possible when it comes to the energy markets. The important thing is that individuals get all the available information on their options and choices so they can make the best choice.”

Lacasse noted that when natural gas proponents speak of the potential for savings, they’re often basing the projected savings on the use of the latest, most efficient gas-fueled equipment. And using the latest, most efficient equipment makes any fuel more efficient.

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: Natural gas

Would you consider heating your home with natural gas?

Yes

No

View Results