By Sen. Roger Katz, Sen. Thomas Martin, Sen. Tom Saviello, Sen. Rodney Whittemore

When Gov. Paul LePage took office one of his first acts was to hang at sign at the border that said Maine was “Open for Business,” signaling that his administration would advance policies aimed at bringing new business to our state.

These policies sought investment, lower energy costs, regulatory reform and job creation. Likewise, the Legislature passed several laws to make Maine a more attractive place to do business, laws that lower the regulatory burden, make capital investment more probable and lower Maine’s tax burden.

We now have a company that wants to make a significant investment in Maine. The proposal by Summit Natural Gas of Maine Inc. to deliver natural gas and lower heating bills for up to 25,000 customers in the Kennebec Valley would advance state policy objectives of lower energy costs and job creation.

As legislators representing the Kennebec Valley, we believe Maine should welcome Summit’s proposed $150 million investment to extend a natural gas pipeline not just to Augusta, but also to most of the Kennebec Valley from Gardiner to Madison and numerous communities in between.

Summit’s project would create more 400 jobs directly as a result of construction. It would serve 15,000 Maine customers in the first three years, ultimately serving 25,000 customers. The project would serve not just state government buildings but also businesses and homes along the route.

For these reasons, we were surprised and disappointed with the state’s recent decision not to award a natural gas contract to Summit.

Summit’s project offered 10 times the job creation and seven times the financial investment of the other pro posal — clear and direct benefits to the state. The other company did not propose to serve residents or communities outside of Augusta for the foreseeable future; Summit proposed expansive natural gas service imminently.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Summit’s proposal is that it would result in significant cost savings for tens of thousands of homes and businesses in the Kennebec Valley — up to 65 percent savings as compared to heating oil.

With natural gas prices significantly lower than oil, now is the time for Maine to take a leap — not just a step — toward energy savings.

Summit has substantial financial backing as well as a proven track record of providing natural gas service at the residential level. In Missouri and Colorado, Summit furnishes natural gas to more than 33,000 retail customers. Its proposal for Maine is no less ambitious.

For Mainers, lowering heating bills is at the top of the priority list when it comes to household budgeting.

Acknowledging that fact, LePage, in his State of the State address in January, said lowering energy costs for Mainers will have a major positive economic impact on the state. Toward that goal, in May, he issued an executive order requiring that all state contract proposals with a value more than $100,000 be scored with reference to economic impact on the state.

A proposal such as Summit’s should have been scored very highly on this issue.

The state’s decision to award a contract to a lesser proposal could make it less likely that the entire Kennebec Valley outside Augusta will ever be able to access natural gas. And the project cannot easily be split in two, with one utility serving Augusta and a second utility serving the rest of the valley.

Service to Augusta is essential to balancing the inherent risks involved in a utility project of this size because the city provides the number and diversity of customers to make the rest of the project feasible.

Summit is appealing the state’s contract award. We hope that our colleagues in the Legislature, the LePage administration and, most importantly, our constituents will succeed in obtaining the direct and considerable energy savings for the most expansive group of Mainers that natural gas can provide.

“Maine is open for business,” the sign says. The question is, will we let it in?

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, chairs the Government Oversight Committee and is a member of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. Sen. Thomas Martin Jr., R-Benton, chairs the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee and is a member of the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee. Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, chairs the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Sen. Rodney Whittemore, R-Skowhegan, chairs the Insurance and Financial Services Committee and serves on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

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