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

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Summit began talks with Franklin County officials after Saviello contacted the company.

Michael Duguay, director of business development for Summit, said the company has to have large committed customers before it can justify laying down expensive infrastructure for the utility.

The company has not committed itself formally to bringing natural gas to the Franklin County area yet. Duguay said the university’s interest was the most important factor when considering building a pipeline.

UMF officials will have to negotiate a final agreement that then would be subject to approval by the University of Maine System’s vice chancellor for finance and administration and the system’s legal counsel.

“It’s very important that when the dust settles, we’re coming to UMF,” Duguay said.

Saviello has said previously the university took too long to make a commitment, and that if it had entered negotiations with Summit earlier last year, a pipeline could have been a possibility a winter sooner.

County officials and businesses first started research with Summit at the end of 2012.

Saviello said UMF officials’ delay on making the commitment kept residents and businesses in the area who are using costly oil to heat their homes from reaping the savings natural gas would bring.

Wait and see

Barton said he already has heard a spectrum of responses to the fact the school is moving forward with gas pipeline negotiations, ranging from a positive reaction that the school will lower its costs and environmental impact, to disappointment that UMF isn’t moving aggressively to nonfossil fuel energy sources.

The campus has installed three geothermal heating and cooling systems. Last summer the university completed its latest project, the installation of 80 ground-source heat pumps, for $1.55 million. The project is expected to reduce carbon emissions by about 354 tons annually, or about the same amount of emissions 67 passenger cars produce in a year.

Barton and Luke Kellett, University of Maine at Farmington sustainability coordinator, said whatever the results of the natural gas negotiation are, it will be an opportunity for UMF students take the reins in analyzing what that effect the final agreement will have on carbon emissions and other environmental factors at UMF.

“It will be interesting to see what they come up with,” Barton said.

The route and the cost of the proposed pipeline still has to be hammered out, Duguay said. He said the company is not sure if it would take a more rural route to Farmington or follow a main road.

Town officials and business leaders in the county have held meetings with Summit previously to demonstrate local interest in natural gas. Two large potential buyers, Franklin Community Health Network in Farmington and Pallet One in Livermore Falls, have expressed interest in the project.

“Our expectation is that there is a lot of interest,” Duguay said.

Summit is investing more than $300 million to install natural gas pipelines from the Augusta area up to Madison in Somerset County. Another company, Maine Natural Gas, also is installing pipeline in the Augusta area.

Elsewhere in the UMaine system, the University of Maine at Augusta has signed a five-year deal with Maine Natural Gas — Summit’s regional competitor. University of Maine System spokeswoman Peggy Markson said the University of Maine at Machias also is working to bring gas to its campus.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252 kschroeder@centralmaine.com
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