BUCKSPORT, Maine — As part of the town’s effort to develop alternative energy sources, officials are looking at the possibility of extending natural gas to the downtown area.
A spur from the natural gas pipeline runs into town as far as the Verso Paper mill and Town Manager Roger Raymond said Thursday that he has approached Bangor Gas Co. about extending that line to serve homes and businesses in the downtown area and at the town’s industrial park.
“It’s already sitting right there,” Raymond said. “It comes down the Silver Lake Road across the power lines to the mill. There’s no reason for us not to try to access it if it provides an advantage for our citizens.”
Although there was interest on the part of the company, Raymond said Bangor Gas officials need to have more information about the interest among residents before they could determine whether it is feasible for them to incur the expense involved in extending the line.
“I’ve had a lot of inquiries in recent months from residents who are interested,” Raymond said. “Right now there’s a significant difference in the cost of natural gas and oil; the last time I checked natural gas was about 30 or 40 percent less. The question is whether that is going to be the case long-term. If it is, that may be a long-term method for us to heat our homes and businesses.”
Targeting the town’s more built-up area could provide the critical mass of potential users in an area small enough to make the project feasible for the company, Raymond said. The area would include all of Main Street from the mill probably to the Orland town line and would extend as far as Broadway. The town also owns property behind the school buildings that would provide access to run the natural gas line to the industrial park on Route 46.
While natural gas may provide a less expensive alternative for heating for residents and business owners, it also could be a cost saver for the town itself. The compact area would encompass the municipal building, the public safety building and all of the town’s school buildings.
“We’d look seriously at using natural gas for heating our buildings,” Raymond said. “We have some large school buildings which are expensive to heat with oil. It takes away from educational programs if you have to use that money to pay those fuel costs.”
The town’s energy committee also is investigating options for developing a municipal electric power source. In order to do that, he said, the town needs to have access to natural gas.
The natural gas line expansion is by, no means, a done deal. Raymond stressed that the company has to be convinced that there is enough interest among potential customers to make it a financially feasible project. Even if there is interest, Bangor Gas has indicated that it would not be able to make any expansion in Bucksport this year.
The town plans to help survey residents and businesses in the affected area and ask them to indicate whether they are interested. Town staff will plot those potential customers on a map and provide that to Bangor Gas. If the project moves ahead, the town also may be able to help with the logistics of finding routes for the lines through town.