December 26, 2013

University of Maine at Farmington negotiating to extend gas pipeline

Summit Natural Gas says the university’s letter of intent was an “important step” in justifying building a pipeline to the region.

By Kaitlin Schroeder kschroeder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

FARMINGTON — A natural gas pipeline from Jay to Farmington is one step closer to reality, after the University of Maine at Farmington formally announced its interest in becoming a Summit Natural Gas of Maine customer.

County officials have been lobbying Summit to come to the area since last year, and the university has now stated its intent to be an “anchor,” or large potential customer that’s pledged to convert to the fuel source.

UMF President Kathryn Foster said in a short prepared statement recently that the university system notified Summit that the school would like to work “to bring natural gas to campus and to convert certain university facilities to use the energy.”

Mike Duguay, director of business development for Summit Natural Gas, said because the infrastructure is expensive, the company needs to have enough committed customers to justify building the system.

“These networks are really anchored by a large user. Before you make a commitment, you have to have some of the larger loads committed,” he said. “Certainly, UMF is the largest in that entire network so this is very important.”

Along with UMF, Duguay said Franklin Community Health Network is another important potential anchor customer in Farmington, though he said the network hasn’t signed a formal letter of intent. Hospital network representatives previously attended county meetings in support of natural gas and the hospital recently switched its main buildings to propane, which makes them also easily compatible with natural gas.

Summit Natural Gas initiated talks with county officials last year through state Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, and state Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, about a proposed pipeline connecting to the line at Verso Paper in Jay, and serving customers in Farmington, Wilton, and Livermore Falls. Representatives from the natural gas company told Franklin County officials that they specialize in catering to rural customers.

Around the same time, the University of Maine System sought proposals for cost-saving energy options to campuses in Augusta, Farmington, Machias and Presque Isle.

Since then University of Maine at Augusta signed a five-year deal with Maine Natural Gas, while the universities at Farmington and Machias are working to bring gas to their schools, said University of Maine System spokeswoman Peggy Markson. University of Maine at Presque Isle is still considering requests for energy proposals, she said.

Duguay said if they do decide to send natural gas to Farmington, it will be a sizable undertaking and residents will need to be patient while the project is built.

“These networks take a little bit of time, to lay out that backbone,” he said.

Summit’s pipeline project from Norridgewock to Randolph has also been caught up in a dispute with a contractor.

Schmid Pipeline Construction, Inc., based in Mayville, Wis., is suing Summit for more than $72 million in damages, charging breach of contract.

The company reported more than 200 customers have signed up for Summit in the Augusta area and residential customers could be getting gas this week.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252kschroeder@centralmaine.com

 

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