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Cumberland, Falmouth, Yarmouth to vote on continuing natural gas study

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Cumberland, Falmouth, Yarmouth to vote on continuing natural gas study

CUMBERLAND — Town councils in Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth expect to vote next month on whether to continue studies into the potential extension of a natural gas pipeline.

There is still much information to be gathered, said Cumberland Town Manager Bill Shane, whose town hosted a joint session on the extension July 18. The towns are exploring natural gas as a less expensive way than oil to provide heat.

"I think the next step ... will be to find out a lot about the legality of a third-party gas company coming in to service these three communities, and what type of rate structure they can set up," Shane said. "Or do we go with a quasi-municipal gas company, which (would be) run by the three towns? That lends itself to a whole host of different questions, and different legal structures."

Shane said it is hoped the towns can find a third party to invest in the infrastructure, with the cost to be funded for by the users – a mixture of residential, commercial and industrial customers.

The manager said he thinks all three councils will endorse going forward with the next step, and that they will discuss the matter at meetings this month and in August.

The Cumberland council could vote Aug. 13 on whether to hire an engineering firm to further explore the feasibility of extending the gas line into the three communities. The potential number of users, and possible regulations, are factors to be studied.

Nat Tupper and Nathan Poore, town managers, respectively, of Yarmouth and Falmouth, said their councils will vote next month.

Each town would pay $15,000 toward the engineering services, Shane said. Of that $45,000, $25,000 would fund engineering, $10,000 would cover legal services and $10,000 would go toward contingency.

Miles Walker of Woodard & Curran, an engineering firm, told the councils in his presentation to them last week that next steps could include developing a concept of a natural gas distribution system; discussing feasibility of the project with pipeline officials and suppliers; reviewing Public Utilities Commission, jurisdictional and pricing issues; developing an implementation plan, and surveying community stakeholders.

A natural gas pipeline already runs through the western part of Cumberland, with a line pressure of about 1,500 pounds per square inch. In order to tap into the gas, a substation would have to be put in on that line, 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 would run from that area, through the center of Cumberland, to Route 1, and then north and south to Yarmouth and Falmouth, Shane said. 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 said, pointing out that Cumberland burns through more than 2,000 gallons of oil a year just to heat its schools.

Walker noted that natural gas could make communities more attractive for economic development, pointing out that end users could save at least 30 percent on their heating bills, and that Cumberland schools could save as much as $100,000 per year.

"There's an abundance of natural gas, and most economists and most projections indicate that natural gas will be inexpensive for a long time," Walker said.

An April article on valuewalk.com, stated that the cost ratio between barrels of oil and natural gas units had reached 52 to 1.

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