Cumberland, Falmouth, Yarmouth seek natural gas proposals

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CUMBERLAND — Town Manager Bill Shane this week will send a request for proposals to three companies, on behalf of Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth, for extension of a natural gas pipeline into the three communities.

Shane will do so with the support of all three towns’ councils, and his fellow town managers. He said Tuesday that he would send RFPs to Summit Utilities, Maine Natural Gas and Unitil. The proposals are due in January 2013.

The three towns have discussed a natural gas pipeline as a less expensive heating fuel than oil, and this summer the town councils each voted to allocate $15,000 to hire an engineering firm to explore the feasibility of the gas line extension. The potential number of users, and possible regulations, were among the factors studied.

The total $45,000 – which includes $25,000 to fund engineering, $10,000 to cover legal services and $10,000 to go toward contingency – has not yet been spent, Shane said.

“That’s the first big question: Do we have a feasible project?,” he said. “Does it make economic sense? And if it does, then we have some money to … help us get more information.”

Shane said during the summer that the towns hope to find a third party to invest 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.”

If the towns are unable to find that company, they will have to decide whether the venture is worth pursuing as a public utility, “which no one has a lot of interest in right now, but that’s always an option,” Shane said this week.

A natural gas pipeline already runs through the western part of Cumberland, with a line pressure of about 1,500 pounds per square inch. To tap into the gas, a substation would have to be added, to reduce the pressure to 100 psi and allow a distribution line to the three towns. The substation could be built near the Cumberland Fairgrounds on Blanchard Road, and would serve as a starting point of the system.

The line could run from that area, through the center of Cumberland, to Route 1, and then north and south to Yarmouth and Falmouth. Approximately 3.8 miles of the distribution pipeline would run through Falmouth, 8.1 in Cumberland and 3.3 in Yarmouth.

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 nearly $8 million.

But being able to cut heating fuel costs between 35 and 50 percent would be a significant savings, Shane has said, noting that Cumberland burns through more than 2,000 gallons of oil a year just to heat its schools.

“The issue for us is, there are just a lot of unknowns with gas,” Shane said. “It’s not the be-all end-all for our energy problems, but it’s a piece of the puzzle. … We’re hoping that we can add this as an additional energy source to help our residents as well as our businesses.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.