AUGUSTA

May 22, 2012

Natural gas seen as key fuel for area

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- Natural gas, whoever provides it, will be the main heating and cooking fuel at MaineGeneral Medical Center's new hospital in north Augusta.

The regional hospital is being built specifically with natural gas in mind, according to Chuck Hays, president and CEO of MaineGeneral Medical Center.

"It would be our main heat source, for all the boilers, and all the kitchen equipment, too," Hays said Monday.

The $312 million hospital will have propane as a backup fuel should natural gas not become available.

Meanwhile, the state government is seeking to reach an agreement with a firm capable of providing natural gas to heat state buildings in the Augusta and Gardiner area and provide the fuel via a to-be-developed pipeline to other users in the Kennebec valley region. The state has asked for a request for proposals by June 1.

Two firms have announced proposals to build competing natural gas pipelines into Augusta -- one from a compressor station in Richmond, the other from an existing pipeline in Windsor.

Kennebec Valley Gas Co.'s proposed $86 million, 56-mile pipeline would run through Augusta on its way from Richmond to Madison.

The other proposed line, from Maine Natural Gas, a subsidiary of CMP-owner Iberdrola USA, would come from an existing pipeline in Windsor, about 10 miles to the east of Augusta. It would cross the Kennebec River in a future phase to get to the west side. Maine Natural Gas officials have not disclosed their proposal's estimated cost.

The state's proposal specifically notes it would not commit to funding the project, but would look to use natural gas at state buildings and -- if the numbers show it would save money compared to how they are heated now -- could enter into a contract committing to buy fuel if a pipeline is built.

Hays said MaineGeneral has chosen gas for its new hospital because its emissions are better for the environment and the potential cost savings are significant. He said the hospital could save about 40 percent compared to using oil at the hospital.

MaineGeneral annually uses about 275,000 gallons of oil at the soon-to-close hospital on East Chestnut street in Augusta.

In a slideshow presentation recently made by Maine Natural Gas officials to the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, MaineGeneral is identified as one of three potential major users the company seeks. The others are the state of Maine and "Veterans Administration," according to a printout from the presentation.

Alan Henry, director of special projects for the state Bureau of General Services, said because the state's request for proposals is still open he could not comment on the potential for natural gas at state facilities.

The state's request for proposals says that it "seeks to enter into a memorandum of agreement with an existing energy provider to supply natural gas to the Augusta/Gardiner area, with sufficient infrastructure development capacity to continue natural gas supply to the Kennebec valley region through Madison. The state is looking for the development of a pipeline to supply natural gas to those areas.

"The state facilities in Augusta/Gardiner areas would serve as anchors for this project. There would be no cost to the state of Maine for development, or installation of these systems. The state of Maine could purchase the natural gas as an energy commodity through a competitively bid supply contract."

The document notes the state's east campus, along Hospital Street in Augusta, is already covered by a separate contract for heating fuel. The west campus uses about 467,000 gallons of oil a year and 11.3 million kilowatts of electricity, with a total annual British thermal unit usage of more than 100 billion.

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