FREEPORT – The Freeport Town Council is interested in helping the town’s Natural Gas Task Force in its efforts to expand natural gas pipelines in areas of the town east of U.S. Route 1, including South Freeport village.

While council Vice Chairwoman Kristina Egan told Natural Gas Task Force members during a workshop last week that she favors going forward with a request for proposals, she emphasized that the town should not spend money on infrastructure to facilitate expansion of the service. Task force member Ed Bradley said he could learn quickly if expansion of the service to residential areas is “doable,” and could quickly get back to the council.

Currently, Maine Natural Gas provides service from U.S. Route 1 North through the business district, and is expanding its pipeline this year north as far as the Casco Bay YMCA. Peter Bottomly, sales manager for Maine Natural Gas, said Monday that no agreement is in place to provide service to the YMCA, but more should be known in that regard soon.

Summit Natural Gas, meanwhile, provides pipeline in Cumberland, Yarmouth and Falmouth, and is extending that service to the Muddy Rudder Restaurant in nearby Yarmouth.

Town Planner Donna Larson said it would take a couple of weeks to put the proposal together.

Bradley said that the town could play a role. The task force has had conversations with Maine Natural Gas, and later Summit.

Bradley said there is a “reasonable concentration” of businesses east of the Freeport/Yarmouth town line. The task force is interested, he said, in gauging the Town Council’s interest in encouraging that connection.

“If we took on lowering energy costs in this community, I think it would make a statement,” Bradley said. “There’s all kinds of things that you can do to make energy a priority in this town.”

Council Chairman James Hendricks asked how much more opportunities for the gas companies, beyond the YMCA, would be viable. Gas companies hesitate to invest in pipeline in areas of low development, due to costs. Natural gas companies want easy access and easy permitting, Councilor D. Scott Gleeson pointed out.

Again, Bradley emphasized the potential benefits to the town if natural gas – a historically cheaper alternative to heating oil – is more available.

“Lowering energy costs all over town would set Freeport apart,” he said. “It would encourage families to come here. That’s a reason to move there.”

Bradley said he is willing to commit his own time to help make this work. The task force is looking for direction, he said.

“If there’s no political will to do this, let us off the hook,” task force member Joe Migliacco said.

Following the meeting, Larson said she will work with the task force on an RFP to the two companies, perhaps similar to the one Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth developed together. Potential area for expansion, price and timing are factors to consider in the RFP, she said.

Bottomly said that despite a recent increase in the price of natural gas, it’s still about 40 percent cheaper than heating oil. Natural gas is sold in therms, which equal 100,000 BTUs.

“Natural gas here is $1.25 a therm, which is an all-time high,” Bottomly said.

Regarding expansion onto side streets and areas that have a lower population density, it’s a difficult decision, Bottomly said.

“Everybody would like to get natural gas,” he said. “It really is an urban product. It’s a density problem. On the long run toward the YMCA, there’s much more density. We’ve really done a lot in Freeport in the three years we’ve been at it.”

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