LePage looking to expand natural gas in Maine

Gov. Paul LePage speaks before signing a pair of bills along the Bangor Waterfront in July.
Bangor Daily News file photo by Kevin Bennett
Gov. Paul LePage speaks before signing a pair of bills along the Bangor Waterfront in July.
Posted Sept. 18, 2011, at 2:02 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 19, 2011, at 9:47 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine – Gov. Paul LePage said he will meet with natural gas companies over the next few months to see what the state can do to expand use of the fuel throughout Maine. He is convinced natural gas will be the “queen” of energy sources for at least the next decade.

“It was a major topic at our meeting,” LePage said. He met last week in Philadelphia with several other Republican governors to discuss issues and solutions.

The governor said Maine is too dependent on oil for heating both homes and businesses. He said natural gas is plentiful and is an efficient alternative to oil.

“In January, energy is going to be a big push,” LePage said, “I want to talk with the legislature about natural gas infrastructure. We are gearing up now to talk with all of the natural gas companies, we want them to come in and talk to us about what we can do to get them to invest in the state of Maine.”

He said in discussions with other GOP governors, experts and staff from the Republican Governors Association, it was clear to him that every state will have a different solution to its energy needs. He said Maine should also invest in more hydro power but said natural gas is a fuel that can immediately help deal with the high cost of energy in the state.

He said the construction time for a natural gas fueled electric plant is far less than building a new hydro dam, or other building other methods of generating electricity.

“The energy alternatives here in Maine are very different from those in other states,” LePage said, “we know the cheapest source right now is coal, but that will not work here because we would have to truck it in.”

He said his administration wants to explore ways to encourage expansion of natural gas in the state for multiple uses. Rep. Stacey Fitts, R-Pittsfield, the co-chairman of the legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee agreed with LePage but said the legislature changed laws this past session to help that expansion.

“We made changes that would help the Kennebec Valley Gas [Co.] with their proposal for a pipeline from Richmond to Skowhegan,” he said. “And we made changes to help with the plant in Woodland that wanted to tie into the gas pipeline up there.”

Fitts said the major obstacle to expansion of natural gas in the state is the expense of the pipelines to distribute the gas. He said there has to be an “anchor” user of large amounts of gas to help pay for the major pipeline.

Last week, the town of Madison proposed a competing pipeline along the same route as the Kennebec Valley Gas Co. Both would connect to the Maritimes & Northeast pipeline that transports gas from Nova Scotia to New England.

Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, the democrat lead on the committee, said he is “all ears” to any proposals the governor may make to encourage more development of gas pipelines. He agreed with Fitts that the legislature has already changed laws to accomplish that goal and believes it would consider further proposals.

“Natural gas may be the flavor of the month,” he said, “we will see if there is any substance to it.”

LePage said his administration is also looking at helping spur pipeline construction by converting the heating systems at some state facilities, including several of the buildings in the Augusta area.

LePage’s energy adviser, Ken Fletcher, told the budget streamlining task force last week that the administration is considering converting several state facilities from oil to natural gas. He said the Maine State Prison is one candidate for conversion where it takes about 390,000 gallons of oil to heat the facility.

He said natural gas, even if it is trucked to facility instead of delivered through a pipeline is cost effective for a large user like the prison.

“Ideally we would have all the natural gas pipes to where we want them,” he said. “But we can get there by going with trucked LNG.”

Natural gas is distributed to both companies and individual home owners in some parts of the state. Unitel serves the Portland area, Lewiston and Auburn and Kittery. Bangor Gas serves parts of Bangor, Brewer, Orono, Old Town and Veazie. Maine Natural Gas serves parts of Windham, Gorham, Bowdoin, Topsham and Brunswick.

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