January 27

Trustees vote to shift UMaine Farmington to natural gas

The move leaves four UMaine campuses with unclear energy futures.

The Associated Press

BANGOR — University of Maine System trustees continued the shift from heating oil to other energy sources Monday, voting to allow the Farmington campus to enter into an agreement to convert to natural gas. Four other campuses already use gas delivered either by pipelines or by trucks.

The deal with natural gas supplier Summit Energy and heating company Trane Inc. allows the 4,000-student school to repay over 10 years the cost of converting to natural gas – $2 million to $4 million – without having to pay cash up front, said Kathryn Foster, president of the campus.

The improved energy efficiency achieved through the project will reduce pollution by the equivalent of removing 200 cars from the road, university officials said.

The deal’s approval follows spikes in demand for natural gas with cold weather causing temporary shortages that forced some Maine mills to limit production. But university officials believe that there will be greater supply of natural gas in Maine by the time the transformation is complete.

“All energy spikes. It’s a supply-and-demand game. Energy markets are volatile,” Foster said. “The assumption is that over time, that natural gas will become cheaper.”

The natural gas will eventually provide energy for about two-thirds of the Farmington campus; the remainder is already being heated through a geothermal system, Foster said.

But first Summit Energy must expand its pipeline from Jay to Farmington, and Trane will have to convert boilers that burn 380,000 gallons of heating oil a year.

It’s part of an ongoing trend.

The flagship campus, the University of Maine, and the University of Southern Maine already use natural gas, while the Fort Kent campus is using a biomass boiler.

The latest initiative to wean the system from expensive heating oil focused on the remaining four campuses. The Augusta campus already decided to move to natural gas, while the Machias campus will use compressed gas delivered by truck. The Presque Isle campus hasn’t yet determined which fuel would work best.

In other action, trustees voted to move a University College branch from its current location in Bath to Brunswick Landing, home of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.

Southern Maine Community College already has a campus at Brunswick Landing and the sharing of resources will be good for both students and taxpayers, said Sheri Stevens, executive director of administrative services for the University of Maine at Augusta, which oversees the University College centers.

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