AUGUSTA — The city is considering spending up to $40,000 on a consultant to help determine which of two proposals to provide natural gas would be best for the city and its schools, businesses and residents.

The wrong choice could be a million-dollar-a-year mistake.

City Manager William Bridgeo said the city now spends more than $1 million a year on oil to heat city and school buildings. Officials hope the arrival of natural gas will help lower those heating costs.

No one on the city staff has expertise with natural gas, so Bridgeo advocates hiring a consultant with expertise in natural gas and energy to analyze the two proposals, from Summit Natural Gas of Maine and Maine Natural Gas, and make a recommendation to the city.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime development for Augusta. It’s going to impact not only the city but residents and businesses as well,” Bridgeo said of natural gas pipelines arriving in the area. “So investing a little money in the front end of the process to ensure we proceed in the best interest of our constituents is prudent. We spend over $1 million a year on oil, so $40,000 is 4 percent of one year’s purchase.”

The city already had sent requests for proposals to four national consulting firms, and an ad hoc committee recommends awarding the bid to Energy Market Decisions Inc. of Hopkinton, Mass., Bridgeo said. The company’s $35,000 proposal offered the best price.

The $40,000 appropriation, Bridgeo noted, would provide flexibility if the city needs more services than those specified in the proposed $35,000 contract with the firm.

Energy Market Decisions, according to an overview provided by the company, was incorporated in 1992 and has a focus on providing strategic and operational advice regarding natural gas, oil and propane markets to support the fuel requirements of industry and institutions.

Last month the city received proposals from Maine Natural Gas and Summit Natural Gas of Maine, which are competing to bring natural gas to the area, in response to a request for proposals. The city asked the companies for proposals on supplying gas via pipeline in two scenarios — one just to city, school, county and court facilities in Augusta; the other a regional proposal including Augusta, Hallowell and Gardiner.

However, Bridgeo said the consultants, if councilors agree to hire them, would work for the city and would be tasked with determining the best deal for Augusta, not the other entities. He said the city would not ask for the other communities’ help in paying for the consultant.

“We’re looking, primarily, at the best decision for the city of Augusta,” Bridgeo said.

The up to $40,000 would come from the city’s undesignated fund balance account, which generally consists of money unspent in previous years.

Councilors will consider appropriating the money to hire a consultant at their meeting Thursday, which begins at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

Councilors also are scheduled to:

• hear an update from Greater Augusta Utilities District Superintendent Brian Tarbuck on Mill Park. The district, and contractor S.E. MacMillan, have been working in the park as part of a $17 million project meant to prevent sewage from getting into Bond Brook, a project that is winding down and;

• hear a presentation on the Day of Caring.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]

 

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