WINSLOW — When Summit Natural Gas breaks ground for trunk lines next year, at least one town official hopes the company can be convinced to expand to some key industrial and business sections, some of which were on the company’s original plan.

Town Councilor Ken Fletcher, the former director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Independence and Security, said once the gas company’s plans are confirmed, he wants to discuss expansion to include the sparsely populated Winslow Industrial Park as well as a portion of Benton Avenue that includes Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Orion Ropeworks.

When the gas company first presented its plans to the state a couple years ago, the industrial park was included, said Town Manager Mike Heavener. But the latest plans Summit has for Winslow don’t go that far south on U.S. Route 201. The company is building a natural gas line from Windsor, which is east of Augusta, up the Kennebec River corridor to Madison. The line is entering Winslow from Waterville.

“We want to be sure that we do everything we can so that they get to where they said they’re going to be,” Fletcher said Wednesday.

At a Nov. 10 Town Council meeting, when Summit’s director of business development, Mike Duguay, presented preliminary plans for the 2015 build, the industrial park was not part of it with gas lines stopping nearly two miles north at Carter Memorial Bridge.

“The first map they presented to us covered a good part of Winslow, but over time, the extent that they planned to build out has diminished a little bit,” Heavener said Wednesday.

The problem, Duguay told the council, is that Summit is primarily a residential gas company, and Winslow’s industrial park is on the outskirts of town, away from the high-density residential areas the company targets.

“That’s a struggle we usually have in a lot of communities, because industrial parks, sadly enough, are not as close to the source of where our backbones are,” Duguay said at the meeting. Especially in the first year, when expenses are typically high and customer counts low, he said, the company must balance its investment with the anticipated number of customers.

While Summit plans to expand from the main trunk lines in the coming years to several Winslow neighborhoods and businesses, if it does not reach the industrial park by next year, expanding there could be delayed indefinitely.

That’s because the Maine Department of Transportation plans to repave U.S. Route 201 through Winslow next year. Once the asphalt is down, there will be a three- to five-year moratorium on digging there, Heavener said, unless Summit is willing to repave the entire road.

“If Winslow in particular is going to compete with other communities, not necessarily just within Maine, but within New England and beyond, affordable energy is critical,” he said. “So having natural gas available as an option, I think, would be very important.”

The industrial park has lots of room for development, Fletcher said, and employers on Benton Avenue, which is U.S. 201 north of town, could expand if they realize lower energy costs.

That makes both sectors important for future economic development in Winslow, he said.

According to Fletcher, options for the town to convince Summit to expand to those areas include informational meetings that could result in more residents and businesses signing up for natural gas.

“In general, people can cut their heating bills by 30 to 50 percent, and what that means for the average household could be like $1,000 a year less in spending,” he said.

As a last resort, Fletcher said, the town could use money generated by a tax increment financing district created in September to capture the value of the infrastructure Summit installs to help make lines to industrial sectors more feasible for the company.

If that were to happen, Winslow would share revenue from the gas lines, making it a public-private partnership, he said.

The town or another gas provider also could go to the Maine Public Utilities Commission, which approved Summit’s plan to provide gas to the Winslow area.

“One of the things we can always do is (go) to the PUC and say, ‘We want gas, and we want the PUC to exercise their authority to require conditions to be met that were originally approved in the plan,'” Fletcher said. “Now, that’s not to force somebody, but it’s to make sure that things don’t drop by the wayside.”

Both Fletcher and Heavener said the gas lines would benefit residents and businesses in the town.

In a statement through a public relations firm, Summit said Wednesday it is still working on plans for its 2015 build and plans to have another update for the council at its meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Evan Belanger — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @ebelanger


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