FREEPORT — The Town Council at a workshop Tuesday instructed its Natural Gas Committee to develop a request for proposals to explore the expansion of gas service to more of the town’s homeowners and businesses.
The committee will solicit information from Maine Natural Gas, which has heated L.L. Bean, the town’s schools, and other downtown buildings since 2010, as well as from Summit Natural Gas, which is scheduled to begin building a $42 million pipeline through Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth this spring.
The council and the committee will examine factors including gas rates, the costs of connecting buildings to pipelines, potential time frames, and the geographical areas the companies would offer to cover.
Maine Natural Gas offers more competitive gas rates, but Summit has shown a greater willingness to increase natural gas access to a large portion of Freeport, Town Planner Donna Larson said.
Natural gas provides a more affordable alternative to oil heat, but laying gas pipelines is expensive. And the initial cost of connecting a building to a pipeline – which can vary wildly from place to place – is prohibitive for some users.
Members of the council and the natural gas committee agreed Tuesday that the town should have tried to leverage greater connectivity across Freeport when Maine Natural Gas and L.L. Bean were courting each another several years ago.
“Let’s face it, the reason they came is because Bean did a lot of things to attract them,” said Joseph Migliaccio, who represents District 3 on the committee.
Edward Bradley, the committee’s District 2 representative, said the town’s approach to natural gas could set an example for neighboring communities, much like Freeport’s recent pioneering research on invasive green crabs.
Councilor Kristina Egan closed the discussion by warning that the town would be wise to avoid spending taxpayer dollars on natural gas infrastructure.
Following the workshop, the council held a regular meeting that also focused on energy costs. The council voted unanimously to endorse an application for a $17,880 Community Development Block Grant that would fund energy audits and air sealing for 75 low- and moderate-income residences.
The program would run through Efficiency Maine and require the town to expend $4,470 from its energy saving reserve account.
The air sealing techniques the program uses can help households save, on average, 100 gallons of oil ever year, Larson said.
If the town receives the grant, it will hire one temporary, part-time staffer to help residents utilize the information from their energy audits. The staffer would also assist residents in finding grants for other energy saving maintenance and renovations, from boiler cleaning to attic insulation.
“The real long-term excitement about this is we’re going to develop a check list of other needs that exist as well,” Councilor Melanie Sachs said.
The town will learn in May whether its application has been approved, Larson said. The program would likely kick off in fall 2014.