February 13, 2013

Augusta, Gardiner mull prospects for natural gas proposal

Natural gas for city, school, county and court buildings would be provided for both cities

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- Municipal, county, school and court buildings in Augusta and Gardiner could be hooked up to a natural gas pipeline through a joint project.

Officials are discussing putting out a united request for proposals seeking bidders to provide natural gas for city, school, county and court buildings in the two cities.

The request also would seek to make gas available to residents and businesses throughout both communities.

"The city of Augusta has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here right now, with the advent of a major new source of energy into this community," Augusta City Manager William Bridgeo said. "I think the mayor and council would say they want to take full advantage of this opportunity and do it right, to the benefit of all residents and businesses, not just city government."

A draft of the proposal states that as a condition for providing natural gas, "the selected vendor must commit contractually to serve the buyer's public facilities, facilities owned by other public bodies (school facilities), and residential and commercial customers within the buyers' municipal boundaries."

The proposed regional request for proposals, or RFP, is modeled on a similar RFP jointly released by the towns of Falmouth, Yarmouth and Cumberland. It was worked on by Bridgeo, Gardiner City Manager Scott Morelli, Kennebec Valley Council of Governments Executive Director Ken Young and Kennebec County Administrator Bob Devlin.

The Augusta City Council is scheduled to discuss joining with Gardiner and the other entities in issuing the proposed regional natural gas RFP at its meeting tonight, which is scheduled for 6:30 in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

City councilors in Gardiner have not discussed the proposal but are scheduled to do so soon.

Young said everybody he's talked to about natural gas is interested in expanding its use throughout as wide a geographic area as possible, and soon, and a contract signed with a gas company could be managed in a way to promote rapid, widespread distribution.

Bridgeo said if city councilors approve the proposed RFP, it would be issued to both Maine Natural Gas and Summit Natural Gas of Maine, two companies competing to install and begin operating natural gas pipelines in Augusta and the rest of the Kennebec Valley.

Dan Hucko, spokesman for Maine Natural Gas, declined to comment on whether that company would bid on an RFP from the municipalities, because it is unknown whether the RFP will be issued.

"Maine Natural Gas is putting pipe in the ground to serve customers in the Augusta area, and we are planning to extend that service throughout the Kennebec Valley -- without an RFP," Hucko said.

Tim Johnston, executive vice president of Summit Natural Gas of Maine, said the firm is "excited" to bid on any RFP issued within the Kennebec Valley.

"Summit Natural Gas of Maine is currently working with communities to sign up commercial and industrial customers in the Kennebec Valley," Johnston said. "Having the cities issue an RFP makes that work easier and more efficient."

Keith Edwards -- 621-5647
kedwards@centralmaine.com

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