February 22, 2013

Augusta joins county, courts to request natural gas proposals

Gardiner may also join city in requests for proposals

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — The city will issue a joint request for proposals to natural gas companies to run pipeline and bring the fuel to heat city, school, county and court buildings in the capital region. 

click image to enlarge

William Bridgeo

Contributed photo

Officials believe they’ve structured the proposal and their scoring system to make it more likely the winning bidder will bring natural gas to as many residents and businesses as possible. They also believe the joint nature of the request for proposals, or RFP, will get them a better price by leveraging the buying power of the city, schools and court system.

However, Augusta officials are unsure whether including the city of Gardiner in the proposal will get them a better deal, because of the potential extra cost of extending gas lines six miles south through two other municipalities. 

So Augusta officials plan on requiring bidders to submit two proposals — one including Gardiner and one without.

“To build out to a partnering city like Gardiner, the cost of doing that may not be beneficial to bring the best price for the city of Augusta,” City Councilor David Rollins said. “It could be we get a better price for our citizens staying by ourselves. The city manager assured me we’d get prices for both.”

City Manager William Bridgeo confirmed that the RFP would ask gas companies to submit their bids two ways — one including Gardiner, the other including only city, school, court and county facilities in Augusta.

Gardiner has not joined the party officially. Gardiner city councilors discussed joining in the RFP but didn’t take official action on it at their meeting Wednesday. Instead, they directed City Manager Scott Morelli to continue developing the proposal and report back to them.

Bridgeo said Kennebec County and court officials have committed to joining Augusta in the RFP, although all entities involved reserve the right to withdraw and go it alone, or to  reject all the proposals and do nothing.

Augusta councilors voted unanimously at their meeting Thursday night to issue the RFP for the natural gas pipeline. 

It will be sent to Maine Natural Gas and Summit Natural Gas of Maine, the two companies competing to bring gas to Augusta and the surrounding area.

The regional RFP is modeled on a similar RFP jointly released by the towns of Falmouth, Yarmouth and Cumberland, for which Maine Natural Gas and Summit Natural Gas of Maine were the only bidders.

David Allen, representing Maine Natural Gas, sent a letter to Augusta after company officials reviewed a draft of the RFP, criticizing several aspects of the draft and suggesting it include more specific details. 

Bridgeo said the Maine Natural Gas letter contains a number of positive recommendations, and that he would incorporate some of them into the final RFP, which councilors will have a chance to review before it is sent out.

Bridgeo said Summit officials also would have a chance to comment on the draft RFP before it is finalized and sent out. 

Bridgeo said it isn’t unusual to consult with companies about a request for proposals before it is issued, even if those companies are likely to bid on it. 

He said their suggestions would be considered, but the city still would have the final word about what to send to bidders.

“We’re the final arbiter of what goes in,” Bridgeo said. “The bottom line is this preserves the city’s rights. It’s done in the best interests of the city, not the two companies.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
kedwards@centralmaine.com

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