FAIRFIELD — Municipal officials from Waterville, Winslow and the adjoining communities are considering forming a natural gas district that proponents say would serve as a customer advocate with the new energy option.

Council members from the three communities met Monday night at Kennebec Valley Community College for the first public discussion among the officials to explore creating a local gas district.

Ken Fletcher, who is on the energy committee of Sustain Mid-Maine, a group that promotes sustainability practices, led the discussion at the meeting and said the proposed natural gas district would serve as a necessary liaison between residents, particularly low-income residents, and Summit Natural Gas of Maine, which is building a $350 million natural gas pipeline in the Kennebec Valley.

“If we don’t create it, the lower-income consumers are going to be struggling to get it and you as councilors are going to be getting a lot of phone calls,” he said.

Fletcher said the possible natural gas district would work to aggregate customers for Summit Natural Gas, help residents with start-up costs for converting to natural gas and be a liaison between customers and Summit.

Fletcher said in other examples of companies building natural gas pipelines in a community, the companies tended to court the largest customers first
“The local distribution companies tended to go to the big users. Our concern was if that happened in our areas, we could predict who would get gas and who would not,” Fletcher said.

The natural gas district, he said, could work to help smaller customers get access to natural gas.

Fairfield Town Councilor Robert Sezak said he did not feel convinced it was necessary for the municipalities to form a district to pool customers for the natural gas company.

“Isn’t that the business’s job? In the private market, that’s how propane works,” he said.

Fletcher said it’s beneficial for the towns to do what they can to promote natural gas, and that gas is important to the area because it would save energy costs for residents who convert from oil and would make the communities more attractive to area businesses.

The combined annual savings for residential and commercial users in the regional market, Fletcher said, could be up to $8 million.

“The belief is that most of that money will stay in the area. They’ll go out to eat more. They’ll use it in our area. It will give the community an $8 million check,” he said.

The gas district, if formed, would be the first of its kind in the state, Fletcher said.
Two Summit Natural Gas of Maine representatives at the meeting said they favor creation of the district.

Mike Dugay, director of business development for the company, said the gas district would help drive their business, and the business in turn would help area residents and businesses save money.

“It’s good business on our part, no question about it; but it’s also good for the residential user,” he said.

Sezak asked the representatives whether the company was collecting the natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Summit Natural Gas of Maine President Mike Minkos said it’s possible that some of the natural gas would have been procured from shale through the chemical process.

“We can’t tell where all the molecules in the pipeline on a given day came from, but some natural gas does come from fracking, which some people find objectionable,” he said.

In response to a question from Winslow Town Councilor Steve Russell, Minkos said the proposed district most likely would not affect the amount of pipeline laid but could affect other factors, such as the rate.

The proposed district would be a quasi-municipal corporation governed by a board of directors appointed by the municipalities. The board would be composed of two members from Waterville, one from Winslow and one from each adjoining community that votes to join the regional district. Fletcher said so far Fairfield and Benton have expressed interest in joining the proposed district.

The district also probably would have a superintendent to direct it, Fletcher said. The superintendent could be paid through a grant, from a future tax-increment financing district or out of the member municipalities’ budgets, he said.

The Legislature passed a law this session allowing Waterville, Winslow and the adjoining communities to form the pilot district.

In order to form the district, Winslow and Waterville officials would need to approve the formation of the regional gas district. According to a report presented by Fletcher at the meeting, the goal would be to form the gas district by January 2014.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252
[email protected]