GARDINER — City councilors delayed their decision on a new heating source for the wastewater treatment plant Wednesday night to give city staff more time to research funding options for the conversion.

Uncertainty about how the decision might affect whether a natural gas pipeline will reach the South Gardiner area, where the plant is located, caused hesitation for some councilors.

Summit Natural Gas of Maine is installing pipelines in the city, but the company hasn’t committed to expanding to the South Gardiner area.

Michael Duguay, director of business development for Summit, told councilors at their meeting two weeks ago that he couldn’t guarantee the company will reach South Gardiner with or without the wastewater plant as a customer.

He said the plant’s heating use is equivalent to that of only about eight homes, but he didn’t know whether a decision to expand in the area would hinge on that amount.

The other top option considered by the council — a thermal effluent heating system — is projected to have a slightly lower annual cost than natural gas.

Councilor Logan Johnson said he’s in favor of thermal effluent, which would use outflowing water to heat the plant, because of environmental reasons. The system would use more electricity but not a direct fossil fuel such as natural gas.

He encouraged the council to decide sooner rather than later to give city staff time to prepare for converting before next year’s heating season and in case the boiler fails this winter.

Mayor Thomas Harnett said he was prepared to vote for thermal effluent because of its smaller carbon footprint and because the Wastewater Advisory Board recommended the effluent thermal option.

The consultant that performed a heating study for the city, however, recommended converting to natural gas from heating oil. The city spends $21,000 annually to heat the plant with No. 2 heating oil.
Converting to natural gas would cost $98,000 and would save $14,000 per year.

Effluent thermal would entail around $150,000 in conversion costs but save about $2,000 more a year than using natural gas would..

City Manager Scott Morelli said the city could secure a grant to cover 40 percent of the conversion cost for whatever option it chooses.

Harnett said felt positive about the chances of natural gas reaching South Gardiner after hearing from Duguay two weeks ago.

“I don’t think we’re in danger of losing it,” Harnett said. “I’m OK with waiting. I just don’t want to wait forever.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663
[email protected]