February 3

As UMF gas line plans proceed, sustainability group holds off on statement

The school will begin negotiations to bring a Summit natural gas line to campus, which would reduce carbon emissions, but the school’s climate plan doesn’t include natural gas.

By Kaitlin Schroeder kschroeder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

FARMINGTON — A natural gas pipeline linked to the University of Maine at Farmington would mean millions in savings for the school and a huge reduction in carbon emissions, but a campus coalition group seeking zero emissions is holding off on saying whether the pipeline will help meet that goal.

Switching to natural gas could reduce carbon emissions to about half that produced by the oil it would replace — the equivalent of taking 200 cars a year off the state’s roads, the university’s president said. It would also save the school an estimated $4 million in energy costs over a decade.

Last week, University of Maine System Trustees announced they had approved contract negotiations between UMF and Summit Natural Gas of Maine, furthering a proposal for a natural gas pipeline from Jay to Farmington. The gas line, if built, would be connected to a line that already has been supplying Verso Paper in Jay since 1998.

The announcement followed months of community discussion about the pipeline, which also would connect to several businesses that have said they are interested in hooking up to the line.

Summit Natural Gas officials have said inclusion of UMF is essential to the project coming to the area. Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, is a big supporter of the line’s expansion and has accused UMF of delaying the project.

“They should be ashamed of themselves,” Saviello said.

While proponents of the gas tout it as both a money- and environment-saving solution, the Sustainable Campus Coalition in its 77-page Climate Action Plan for UMF mentions natural gas just once — in a paragraph that lists the fuel source as a nonrenewable energy that the campus should move away from.

“Our goal is to decrease our reliance on external sources of fossil fuels,” the plan states.

Andrew Barton, a biology professor at the forefront of the green initiative and an author of the climate action plan, said in an email Friday that the Sustainable Campus Coalition will know more about what effect the natural gas project will have on UMF when a final contract is complete.

“Most people are waiting, including those of us in the (coalition) and myself, to see the details of a final agreement and contract before forming a detailed opinion,” Barton said.

The gas project, which would replace heating oil systems in several campus buildings, would save UMF an estimated $4 million over a decade.

UMF President Kathryn Foster said in a news release from the University System that the annual heating oil reduction from the switch is estimated to be the equivalent of removing 200 cars from Maine roads each year.

UMF’s role

The coalition, which is a group of UMF professors and students, has been pushing the campus to achieve carbon-neutrality, or a net-zero impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

The group’s action plan calls for campus-based renewable energy systems — the top choice is to “substantially increase geothermal” — and, as a last resort, buying offsets to reach net-zero emissions. Other systems listed in the plan include solar hot water, wind and photovoltaics.

The Environmental Protection Agency states on its website that natural gas combustion produces nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide, but in lower quantities than burning coal or oil. Compared to the average air emissions from burning, natural gas produces half as much carbon dioxide, less than a third as much nitrogen oxides, and 1 percent as much sulfur oxides, the website states.

The UMF coalition is pursuing a long-term goal of carbon neutrality goal by 2035. The first big benchmark for the college is 2015, when it plans to have made a 20 percent reduction from 2007 levels.

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