Summit Natural Gas of Maine has “mobilized all available resources” to inspect and replace pipe fittings that may have been installed incorrectly on gas lines in seven central Maine communities, according to documents filed with the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

The Oct. 15 compliance filing follows a commission order this month that requires Summit to check more than 600 electrofusion couplings — fittings that connect segments of pipeline in the company’s network. Improperly installed couplings could heighten the chance of gas leaks.

Matthew Kaply, Summit’s director of regulatory affairs, said in a phone interview Monday that the company will focus on Augusta and Waterville and prioritize areas with a concentration of residential and commercial customers.

“We’re moving very vigorously to tend to this, get it taken care of and make sure our system provides the kind of reliable service our customers expect,” Kaply said.

The company says the system is safe, but the PUC required a mitigation plan after it discovered a coupling that was installed incorrectly while monitoring Summit’s work this summer on replacing faulty residential connections. Gas safety employees from the PUC believe that equipment installed by three construction subcontractors Summit used in its 2013-2014 building season was not put in correctly.

According to its compliance filing, the portion of its service territory Summit is looking at includes Augusta, Fairfield, Gardiner, Hallowell, Madison, Randolph and Waterville. The company has divided communities into numbered zones that it will work through as the inspections move forward. The zone maps are considered confidential proprietary information, so the specifics of the timing and locations of the work aren’t available.

The new inspections don’t bother Thomas Nale, a lawyer and former Waterville mayor who owns 11 mainly residential properties in the city. Nale switched two of the apartment buildings he owns on Pico Terrace over to natural gas supplied by Summit late last year.

Nale said he didn’t have the professional expertise or background to say whether the coupling inspection and earlier replacement of electrofusion tees was a serious issue.

“As far as I’m concerned, what I know is that it has been efficient, it has saved us money, and I have no problem with the service,” Nale said. He hopes to put the other buildings he owns on Summit’s network when the company expands service lines through Waterville.

Under the PUC plan, Summit has to identify and locate all the couplings installed in the areas. Crews have to inspect the equipment visually and replace it if it fails an inspection. A smaller number of couplings installed by each contractor will be taken out and sent back to the manufacturer for more intense testing. If any of those fail, every coupling installed by that contracting company will be replaced. Kaply said service disruption will be minimal because the couplings can be bypassed while they are being inspected and replaced.

In its filing, Summit said it would mobilize fully by the first of November and would have six inspection crews and eight replacement crews working on mitigation.

The company has a Dec. 31 deadline to complete those efforts with the exception of Gardiner and Randolph, where the work will take a few extra days in January. According to its filing, the company expects to have all work completed by Jan. 17, although it notes in the filing that unanticipated complications, such as inclement weather or difficulty locating couplings, might affect the company’s ability to finish its construction plan efficiently.

If it doesn’t make the end-of-year deadline, Summit has a contingency plan to shut down parts of its network and provide affected customers with either a propane burner conversion or electric space heaters and will reimburse customers for additional fuel costs they incur as a result of switching to another heat source.

Kaply on Monday said he didn’t believe the company will have to resort to its backup solution.

“We don’t actually think we are going to need the contingency plan,” Kaply said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire


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