January 19, 2020
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Lack of interest may threaten plans to bring natural gas into downtown Bucksport

BUCKSPORT, Maine — A proposal to expand natural gas lines into downtown may not become reality unless more homeowners and businesses along the planned route sign up for service, a representative for the gas supplier said recently.

But Bucksport’s town manager said he is confident enough customers will agree to convert to gas to justify the project financially.

Bangor Gas Co. has laid out a plan for installing roughly 2 miles of natural gas infrastructure from the pipeline’s terminus at the Verso Paper mill to the RSU 25 school campuses. Businesses and homes along the planned route — primarily along Broadway, Franklin and Central streets — are being offered the chance to connect.

But Jon Kunz, marketing and sales manager for Bangor Gas, said only about 30 businesses, homeowners and other buildings along the route have expressed an interest in converting to natural gas. At present, the company is still about $100,000 short of the figure needed to move forward with the project, he said.

“We definitely want to do this,” he said. “But without enough revenue, we can’t.”

Towns and industries throughout Maine are trying to lure natural gas suppliers to their areas because of the sizable price gap between gas and heating oil in recent years. The LePage administration has made expanding Maine’s natural gas infrastructure a top priority.

Bucksport officials have been talking seriously about extending natural gas lines into town for at least three years and agreed last year to contribute $240,000 toward the construction costs.

RSU 25, meanwhile, expects to save more than $100,000 a year by switching from heating oil to natural gas. In fact, school officials are banking on those savings as they plan next year’s budget, which already is expected to be higher than last year even with the lower fuel costs.

Town Manager Roger Raymond said Monday that he remains “fairly optimistic” that Bangor Gas will woo enough customers to make the project feasible. Raymond said he knows of several likely customers and town officials will make sure Bangor Gas contacts them.

“We know there are several large, large users that have not responded yet but will be responding, so I am not that concerned about it at this time,” Raymond said.

Another option if not enough customers agree to sign up with Bangor Gas before construction begins would be for the town to chip in more money toward the project. But Raymond pointed out that any contributions exceeding $250,000 would have to be approved by town voters.

Kunz expressed some surprise that so few people have agreed to convert so far, adding that he has seen similar numbers on a single street in Bangor. He noted, however, that another 30-plus customers who are located off the proposed route in Bucksport have expressed interest in switching to natural gas.

He said the company remains eager to complete the project, pointing out that the company installed a valve and potential tap at the Bucksport mill back in 2000 in anticipation of eventually extending pipelines into town.

But he said, at least so far, the interest is “not where it needs to be” in order to complete the project with the $240,000 offered by the town.

Kunz said his company is looking for more people and businesses to sign up to justify the expense of constructing the line.

“I am not saying that the town has to contribute more money,” Kunz said.

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