Wednesday, December 4, 2013
By Matt Byrne firstname.lastname@example.org
The town managers of Falmouth, Cumberland and Yarmouth will soon evaluate at least one proposal to bring natural gas service to the three towns.
Brunswick-based Maine Natural Gas filed a formal proposal Friday to build a substation and spur line from the Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline, which runs through West Cumberland. The project would serve about 6,000 residential customers and hundreds of businesses.
"People really want the natural gas as a heating option," said Bill Shane, town manager for Cumberland. "It's still cheaper than oil."
The proposal would provide every commercial customer and 60 percent of households in the towns with the service, said Dan Hucko, spokesman for Iberdrola USA, the parent company of Maine Natural Gas.
Hucko said the remaining 40 percent of households are expected to decide against spending the money to convert their heating systems to natural gas.
Now that Maine Natural Gas has filed its proposal, it will be up to the towns to decide whether they want to do business with the company. "The ball is in their court," Hucko said.
It was unclear if Maine Natural Gas was the only company to meet Friday's deadline for proposals.
Unitil, which had expressed interest in the project, did not bid, a spokesman said. A third company that requested the bidding information, Summit Utilities, did not return calls for comment. After the deadline for proposals passed, Shane could not be reached for comment.
Shane, who is leading the effort on behalf of the towns, said earlier Friday that many questions will have to be answered before the project can move forward.
He will meet soon with Yarmouth Town Manager Nat Tupper and Falmouth Town Manager Nathan Poore to determine whether any proposal is right for the towns.
"This is sort of a new animal," he said. "I don't even think we're at the starting line. There is still a huge learning curve for all three towns."
Shane would not provide a copy of the Maine Natural Gas proposal after it was received Friday, citing confidential company information.
The Portland Press Herald has submitted a formal request to Shane for the proposal, citing the state Freedom of Access Act. Hucko did not release the company's bid.
Among the key issues for town officials will be pricing, and whether a utility will charge rates that differ from those in other areas of the state that now have natural-gas service.
Natural gas has the potential to dramatically lower heating costs for many homeowners, with savings of 30 to 50 percent when compared to oil heat, Shane said.
The service expansion has been in the works since October 2011, when the towns began to explore pooling their resources to attract interest in the project. Initial estimates pegged the cost at $8 million to $10 million.
The towns considered bearing the cost themselves by creating a municipal utility to provide the service -- an option that's highly unlikely now, Shane said.
If a gas provider invests instead, there is potential for a smaller financial outlay for the municipalities.
While other regions of the country have had natural gas service for years, New England -- and Maine in particular -- have lagged, Tupper said.
"Summit and Maine Natural Gas are getting into a more competitive, aggressive approach," he said. "They're determining if this is a market worth developing."
Staff Writer Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at: