CUMBERLAND — Three towns are looking into the feasibility of extending natural gas service into their communities as a less expensive way to heat buildings.
The Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth town councils are scheduled to meet together at Cumberland Town Hall Wednesday to hear a presentation on the matter from Woodard & Curran, an engineering firm.
A natural gas pipeline already runs through the western part of Cumberland, with a line pressure of about 1,500 pounds per square inch, Town Manager Bill Shane said last week.
“It’s a fairly large volume of gas,” he said.
A substation would have to be put in on that gas line, and would reduce the pressure to 100 psi, allowing a distribution line to the three towns. The substation, which could be built near the Cumberland Fairgrounds on Blanchard Road, would serve as a starting point of the system.
“Nobody would be able to access (the gas) on a large scale unless it was brought down to kind of a street pressure, which you could put into a more economical pipe in the street,” Shane said, allowing homes and businesses to tap into the system.
Shane said the three communities probably could not fund extension of the line on their own. He said he and the Falmouth and Yarmouth town managers have been looking into a multi-town project for the past year.
The substation could cost about $1.5 million, and new gas main distribution piping into the towns could cost about $300,000 per mile to build, resulting in a total project cost of between $8 million and $10 million, Shane said.
He said it is hoped that “we can find a third party that will be making the investment in the infrastructure, and the cost will be paid for by the users, so that every one of the residential, commercial and industrial customers would be getting a bill, and … part of that payment would be part of the debt structure for building all this infrastructure.”
Cumberland burns through more than 2,000 gallons of oil a year just to heat its schools, Shane said, adding that “if we could cut our costs for heating fuel between 35 and 50 percent, that’s a huge savings.”
According to an April article on valuewalk.com, the cost ratio between barrels of oil and natural gas units reached 52 to 1. One company’s natural gas futures dropped to $1.982 per 1,000 cubic feet, its lowest price in a decade, according to the article.
He noted that “this is all new technology to this area, and we are really wrestling with a lot of the facts that we still don’t know, and we’re still learning about, and we need to educate our citizens so that they can make an informed decision of what works best for them.”
Shane added, though, that the school and commercial users would benefit almost immediately from the use of natural gas.
Yarmouth Town Manager Nat Tupper said Monday that the idea of extending the pipeline is “well worth exploring.”
He said he anticipates the majority of town councilors will be interested in pursuing the option, adding that “there’ll be some legitimate and articulate reservations about perpetuating our dependence on fossil fuels.”
Tupper also predicted there could be concerns or questions about safety, cutting up pavement, or any public subsidy that might be required to make the work happen.
“It does look like there are potential feasible options for expanding natural gas into all three communities,” Falmouth Town Manager Nathan Poore said Monday, “and the obvious benefits of that alternative energy source are competition (and) cleaner fuel, and it’s a desirable fuel due to price.”
The town has discussed the venture with businesses, and “we’re finding that there’s clearly an interest,” he said.
The purpose of Wednesday’s meeting, Poore explained, is to share initial feasibility findings with the town councils and public, and to “try to gather some input from the town councils as to what the next steps might be.”
Benefits and disadvantages of natural gas, according to Alternativeenergysource.org:
• Advantages: Low cost relative to other fuels, and produces less carbon dioxide than oil or coal, although it does still produce the compound. Production can also be increased to meet peak demand, and it can be reduced when the gas is not needed.
• Disadvantages: Natural gas is not sustainable, and reserves are limited. Prices will also fluctuate according to supply and demand.