Saturday, May 25, 2013
By Kelley Bouchard firstname.lastname@example.org
Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth officials are considering a proposal to build a pipeline that would deliver natural gas -- and significant savings -- to businesses and homes in the coastal towns.
It would cost $8 million to $10 million to tap the regional Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline in West Cumberland and install a pipeline along Blanchard Road, Tuttle Road and Route 1, said Bill Shane, Cumberland's town manager.
The effort and investment could reduce energy bills by 35 percent to 50 percent for businesses and residents who now use fuels such as heating oil and propane, Shane said. Town officials are talking about pooling resources and potential demand for natural gas to make the project viable and attractive to gas-delivery companies.
"There's a high-pressure gas main that runs through all three communities and we'd like to take advantage of it," Shane said. "Individually, none of the towns alone has enough customer demand to make it worth the initial investment. Together, we have enough business and residential demand to make it feasible."
If they fail to entice a gas-distribution company to build the pipeline and deliver natural gas, the towns may consider forming a municipal company that would borrow money, build the pipeline and deliver the gas, Shane said.
Town councilors and other officials from the three communities are scheduled to hold an initial public discussion of the pipeline proposal at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Cumberland Town Hall.
A preliminary study, commissioned by Cumberland, concluded that the towns have enough demand for natural gas to warrant building and maintaining the pipeline, but it offered no specifics on the number of customers, the cost to operate the system or rates for users.
Cumberland officials are seeking $15,000 from each town to commission a detailed feasibility study that would be the basis of a formal request for proposals from gas-distribution companies, Shane said.
Most of the demand would come from nonresidential users -- commercial, industrial, municipal -- most of which are projected to convert to natural gas service within five years of the pipeline's completion, Shane said.
The pipeline would run right past Cumberland schools, which use 200,000 gallons of heating oil annually and would save as much as $100,000 per year by using natural gas, Shane said.
Many business owners are excited about the prospect of using natural gas, though some believe the pipeline project is a long shot, said Carolyn Schuster, executive director of the Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce.
"Many of our business owners have said it would save them a substantial amount of money," Schuster said. "Some are already making improvements to their buildings that will be compatible with natural gas. Businesses have so many challenges and such a small profit margin, every little bit helps."
Exactitude is one business that's preparing for the pipeline. The company, which makes and distributes commercial windows, doors and millwork, is moving from South Portland to a building under construction on Route 1 in Cumberland, near Falmouth.
The new building, expected to be complete this fall, will have a propane heating and cooling system that could be converted easily to natural gas.
"It's one of the cheapest energy sources available and we want to make sure our operation is inexpensive to run," said Ben Getchell, Exactitude's controller. "If they bring natural gas to Route 1, we want to make sure we're ready."
Residential customers are a less significant factor in future demand for natural gas, Shane said. They use less energy and tend to convert at a slower pace, when faced with a $2,000 connection fee and other conversion costs.
In Cumberland alone, about 550 homes, 300,000 square feet of schools and municipal buildings, and 200,000 square feet of commercial-industrial space would be adjacent to the pipeline, Shane said. Residential service would expand to outlying neighborhoods according to demand.
At least 50 gas-distribution companies operate in the Northeast, including Maine Natural Gas in Brunswick, a subsidiary of Spain-based Iberdrola USA. The Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline runs 886 miles from Nova Scotia to Massachusetts and is owned by Spectra Energy, Emera Inc. and ExxonMobil Corp.
It would cost $1 million to $1.5 million to build a natural-gas substation in West Cumberland, near the Cumberland Fairgrounds, and $300,000 per mile to install a pipeline along Blanchard Road, Tuttle Road and Route 1, Shane said.
He said town officials have yet to court serious interest from gas-distribution companies.
"We're very much in the tire-kicking stage," he said. "I think they're waiting to see how serious the towns are and what rates they can get."
Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: