AUGUSTA, Maine — Summit Natural Gas, one of two distributors vying to supply natural gas to business and residential customers in the Kennebec Valley, has received approval from the Maine Public Utilities Commision to start laying pipeline in the region.
Colorado-based Summit received a unanimous OK on Thursday from the PUC to operate as a Maine gas utility. That approval will allow Summit to start installing pipeline once a new construction season starts and it has permits from the state departments of Transportation and Environmental Protection in hand.
“We’re pretty pleased with the decision today, and we’re going to be planning on getting started with building the system and continuing our marketing efforts to try to get as many people signed up as possible,” said Timothy Johnston, Summit’s vice president and chief strategy officer.
Summit is planning a four-year buildout of pipeline infrastructure in the Kennebec Valley. By Nov. 1, Johnston said, the company hopes to have completed its core, 67-mile steel pipeline stretching through 12 communities from Richmond in the south to Madison in the north. That pipeline will hook into the 684-mile Maritimes and Northeast pipeline in Windsor.
The company also plans to start building distribution lines off the main pipeline this summer to serve residential and business customers, Johnston said.
“We’ve got plenty of customers signed up already to be an indication to us that we can more than justify our system being built,” he said.
The PUC’s approval of Summit as a natural gas utility marks a new development in a public rivalry between Summit and Maine Natural Gas as the companies compete to supply natural gas to a region that doesn’t have access to the energy source.
The competition intensified over the summer, when Summit successfully appealed a state decision to award Maine Natural Gas the rights to build a pipeline stretching from Windsor to Augusta that would serve state offices and position the company to expand service throughout Kennebec Valley.
Maine Natural Gas has appealed the rejection of its award in Kennebec County Superior Court, and the state has yet to issue another request for bids from companies hoping to supply gas to state-owned facilities in Augusta and Gardiner.
Meanwhile, both companies have been rushing to recruit customers and announce new commitments. Maine Natural Gas — which is owned by the Spanish energy giant Iberdrola, wich also owns Central Maine Power Co. — in October announced it had signed on the new MaineGeneral Medical Center facility under construction in north Augusta. The company also started laying pipe along Route 17 in Windsor.
Soon after the MaineGeneral announcement, Summit Natural Gas announced it had signed on a major Augusta developer. Summit is also in talks with a number of industrial customers in the Kennebec Valley.