A couple of years ago, a Colorado-based natural gas company made promises to Mainers that it couldn’t keep. In 2012, in order to gain traction in a bid to operate its business here, especially in central Maine, Summit Natural Gas pledged to spend $350 million to connect 15,000 homes in the Kennebec Valley and $73 million more to serve 80 percent of homes in Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth.

Its competitor, locally based Maine Natural Gas, pointed out at the time that Summit’s business model was seriously flawed. Based on a mantra of “build it and they will come,” the Summit plan overpromised and has underdelivered. Summit’s history since arrival has been exacerbated by a very poor safety record.

Faced with the reality of failing connection goals and a string of violations totaling thousands of dollars imposed by Maine’s Public Utilities Commission, Summit seemingly has decided to blame Mainers. The out-of-state company, which has, in my opinion, been consistently shown preference and favoritism, has gone to the Public Utilities Commission to request that millions of dollars being spent on advertising by the company be paid by its customers. The rationale it offers is that the advertising campaign is really an educational program because, as a Summit spokesman said, “We didn’t anticipate how little Mainers knew about natural gas.”

Summit wants to “convince Maine homeowners that its product is safe, reliable and competitively priced.”

Unfortunately for Summit, on the basis of its record to date, it has caused us “dumb” Mainers to question its claims of safety and reliability. As far as price is concerned, Maine Natural Gas bid half the price of Summit in Augusta in 2012 before Summit was allowed to cut its price to meet Maine Natural Gas’s.

It’s pretty hard to make your case when headlines read “Maine PUC finds safety violations in Summit Natural Gas pipeline project. PUC monitors say some workers weren’t properly qualified and allege other issues, but the company defends its practices and says it’s not cutting corners.”


Of most concern to those of us in central Maine is the recent news out of Waterville. Summit faces $30,000 in fines after the Maine PUC said some of the company’s equipment failed inspections. Waterville, Fairfield and Madison are the communities affected. They are in no imminent danger, but left alone, there’s potential for gas leaks, according to news articles.

PUC reports also identify a December incident in which a tee (connection to a house) blew off in Fairfield. After repairs, the tee installation still was leaking the next day. As a result, 434 tees are being inspected. Early reports showed 82 of 144 have failed. In addition to the latest pending fines, Summit has paid a $25,000 fine for using unqualified contractors and $100,000 after puncturing sewer lines in the Augusta-Gardiner area. And, there have been other violations.

I’m afraid the public’s education already may have progressed too far for Summit to successfully change its image. It pains me — as a strong supporter of business and economic development — to say it, but the appearance is that an overly ambitious, unrealistic race for quick profits might be part of Summit’s problems.

To even the most casual observer, it must be obvious that the introduction of and rush to expand natural gas to the area has come with a cost to our infrastructure. The mistake was lack of a careful, detailed plan, implemented in stages with all the proper consideration for quality and safety. Summit’s consistent record of inability to meet delivery deadlines on time is evidence of lack of such a plan.

I have never been a fan of Summit Natural Gas. I first wrote a letter to the editor in favor of Maine Natural Gas when that local CMP-affiliated company bid a price 50 percent lower than that of Summit for the Augusta city government contract. When Summit was allowed to resubmit its bid, I felt so strongly that I lobbied briefly as a paid political consultant for Maine Natural Gas, until that company decided to withdraw from the bidding process.

Natural gas companies are not a utility under the supervision of or regulation by the Greater Augusta Utilities District (water and sewerage), therefore I am not in conflict of interest as a trustee of that district, when commenting on this subject. I am, however, a first-hand knowledgeable observer of utility activities since the arrival of natural gas in our region.

The PUC should reject Summit’s request to have customers pay millions of dollars for an advertising campaign caused by Summit’s own mistakes.

Don Roberts, a former city councilor and former vice chairman of the Charter Commission in Augusta, is a trustee of the Greater Augusta Utility District.

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