December 11, 2012

Maine Natural Gas pipeline pitched to Winslow Town Council

Company plans to deliver gas throughout central Maine coming year or so; council takes no action on plans at Monday meeting

By Ben McCanna
Staff Writer

WINSLOW -- Representatives of Maine Natural Gas made their pitch for providing service to central Maine during a Town Council meeting Monday.

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Competing natural gas pipeline proposals

• Maine Natural Gas: $19.3 million investment, creating about 40 jobs, to develop the project over the next two years, first serving state property and users on both sides of the Kennebec River in Augusta. The project includes the potential to expand, as demand warrants.

• Summit Natural Gas of Maine: $150 million investment, creating about 435 jobs, to develop project intended to serve about 15,000 residential and industrial customers by its third year of operation. The project would start in the Augusta area and the pipeline would stretch north through Waterville and end in Madison.

Source: proposals filed with state

The company, which serves more than 3,000 customers in southern Maine, is in the final stages of planning a major expansion to nine towns along the Kennebec River -- from Gardiner to Madison via a pipeline. In Winslow, the expansion could serve more than 3,300 residential and business customers. Most residents of Waterville and Fairfield would also have access to the proposed distribution lines.

Mark R. Beaudoin, director of quality and franchise development for Maine Natural Gas, said the company is seeking commitments from area industries, or anchor customers, who would buy enough fuel every year to make the pipeline and distribution lines financially viable. Beaudoin said the company could reach agreements with those companies by the end of the month.

In the meantime, Maine Natural Gas has developed engineering plans for distribution lines throughout Augusta, Fairfield, Waterville and Winslow and it has preliminary engineering plans for Madison and Skowhegan. The company will soon develop engineering plans for Farmingdale, Gardiner and Hallowell, Beaudoin said.

Installation of the main line could be completed in 2013 or 2014, he said.

Beaudoin's presentation began with an overview of Maine Natural Gas' parent company, Iberdrola -- an international energy company with operations in 37 countries, including Brazil, Mexico, Spain and the United Kingdom. It also owns the Central Maine Power Co., employs more than 33,000 people and has more than 30 million customers. In 2011, the company's revenue was more than $40 billion.

"It's a Maine company with global resources," Beaudoin said of Maine Natural Gas.

A map of the proposed project, which was shared with the council after the meeting, shows a main pipeline traveling from Augusta along the east side of the Kennebec River on state-owned rights of way. The company isn't sure where the pipeline will cross the river into Waterville -- at the Carter Memorial Bridge or Ticonic Bridge -- but in either case, the company plans to serve about 90 percent of Winslow residents in the more densely populated areas of town. The map also shows service to a majority of Waterville and Fairfield residents.

Beaudoin said the average yearly cost for a Maine residence is $729. The company did not provide cost comparisons with other fuel sources, such as heating oil.

The council took no votes on Maine Natural Gas' proposal. Next month, the council will hear a similar proposal by Summit Natural Gas, which is competing with Maine Natural Gas for many of the same areas. The competition between them has been fierce at times, including a pending lawsuit.

In November, Maine Natural Gas announced it had signed a 10-year agreement to provide natural gas to the new MaineGeneral Medical Center regional hospital under construction in north Augusta. Two weeks later, Summit Natural Gas of Maine issued a similar announcement, saying it has a 10-year commitment with Harper's Development, which owns buildings in Augusta, Gardiner, Hallowell, Oakland and Winthrop.

Summit's proposed natural gas pipeline would run from an existing connection in Windsor to Augusta and throughout the Kennebec Valley as far north as Madison. The company plans to start laying pipe in the ground in April if it gains approval from the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

Maine Natural Gas already has the commission's approval to operate in Maine and has started laying a supply line to the new hospital site. The company hopes to install infrastructure to serve Augusta and much of the rest of the Kennebec Valley.

If both companies are successful, they will have virtually parallel pipelines along the same roads in many locations.

Earlier this year, Maine Natural Gas won a bid to bring a gas pipeline to state property in Augusta. However, that award was thrown out by an appeals panel because the state's decision-making process was found to be flawed.

Maine Natural Gas has since filed a lawsuit, which the courts have not heard yet. State officials have not said whether they will issue a new request for proposals to provide state property with natural gas.

Also on Monday, the council said good-bye to Paul Manson, 2nd District, a 15-year veteran of the council. Town Manager Mike Heavener presented a plaque to Manson and read aloud its inscription.

"Because of your service, Winslow is a better place to live," Heavener said.

Manson was beaten in the election by newcomer Benjamin Twitchell, 393-360, and Manson directed some good-natured remarks to his replacement, who sat in the audience.

"If I'm going to lose to somebody, I don't mind losing to Mr. Twichell," he said. "Good luck to you."

Ben McCanna -- 861-9239

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