October 24, 2013

Natural gas now flowing in Augusta

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Natural gas is expected to be flowing today to MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Alfond Center for Health, the new hospital set to open Nov. 9.

“I know the gas is at their meter, so basically as soon as they want it, they can get it,” said Dan Hucko, director of media relations for Maine Natural Gas, a subsidiary of Iberdrola USA.

Hospital spokeswoman Diane Peterson said she expected it to be used today.

The new regional hospital in northwest Augusta will house all the inpatient services from MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Thayer campus in Waterville as well as all functions of MaineGeneral Medical Center’s East Chestnut Street hospital in Augusta.

The regional facility will be the first large customer to get its natural gas piped in, Hucko said. He added that the next large customer scheduled to be hooked up is the University of Maine at Augusta.

Construction of natural gas pipelines in central Maine by two competing suppliers has been underway for months.

“MaineGeneral was really the anchor, the key customer, and when we got them to sign that long-term power purchase agreement, that was really the first domino,” Hucko said. “That  gave us the financial stability to invest the money. Once we had that, we could justify the $23 million to build the pipeline.”

The contract with the hospital called for the natural gas pipeline delivery to be in place by Nov. 1.

“That was really our goal all along,” Hucko said. The new hospital has been opening its nonclinical functions in stages. So far, laundry services and administrative services are in the new building, which has fuel tanks at the rear.

Maine Natural Gas had to install a 21.4-mile steel-and-plastic natural gas main from the Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline tap in Windsor to the hospital site, which is along a new section of Route 3 between Interstate 95 and Civic Center Drive.

A news release about MaineGeneral’s hookup says Maine Natural Gas has spent the past two weeks “testing, cleaning and purging the $23 million ‘backbone’ — the first natural gas pipeline ever to reach Augusta.”

In the same release, Darrel Quimby, vice president of Maine Natural Gas, thanked people for their patience during the pipeline construction.

Since MaineGeneral came aboard, Maine Natural Gas has signed up 250 more customers, including state facilities and  commercial enterprises, according to Hucko.

Maine Natural Gas is headquartered in Brunswick and has about 570,000 natural gas and propane/air gas customers in Maine, New Hampshire and New York, according to the news release.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

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