December 22, 2013

First Augusta home gets natural gas

The two natural gas firms are competing against each other, and other sources of heat, for new customers.

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

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.

click image to enlarge

Switched: Dick Gagnon talks about the five burner kitchen stove, left, and direct vent heater, bottom right, that now run on natural gas in his Augusta home. Gagnon recently switched from propane to natural gas.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

click image to enlarge

HEATING WITH GAS: an outdoor gas meter on the Augusta home of Dick Gagnon, who was one of the first in the area to switch from propane to natural gas.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Contact information

To reach Summit Natural Gas of Maine:

General calls: (855) 910-4433

Website: www.summitnaturalgasmaine.com

Emergency: (800) 909-7642

 

To reach Maine Natural Gas:

General calls: (877) 867-1642

Website: www.mainenaturalgas.com

Emergency: (877) LEAK-ODOR, (877) 532-5636

 

Dig Safe: (888) DIG-SAFE, (888) 344-7233

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, clothes dryer and gleaming new kitchen stove.

“I’m heating with it, cooking with it, and my clothes dryer runs on it,” Gagnon, who plows snow for Augusta Public Works, said of natural gas. “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 burning natural gas. He figures he’ll save 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 noted some chimneys may also 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 multi-unit 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 this week and progressing well despite colder-than-expected weather. He said some residential customers could be getting gas from Summit roughly just before Christmas.

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

However Marc Lacasse, president of local oil and propane dealer Augusta Fuel Company, which began in Augusta in 1888 as the Augusta Ice Company before gaining 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 historically 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. To the extent the energy market is evolving, and part of that is obviously natural gas, as a business it’s up to us to evolve and do the things we need to do to take care of our customers.”

(Continued on page 2)

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