In this 2014 file photo, steel pipe slated to become part of a natural gas pipeline in Lincoln is shown. Credit: Nick Sambides Jr. / BDN

ROCKLAND, Maine — A Maine natural gas company is planning a $90 million expansion project to Knox and Waldo counties. It means that upward of 6,500 customers there would have access to natural gas as a fuel alternative for the first time, according to Summit Natural Gas of Maine.

“The midcoast is one of the last commercial centers in Maine without natural gas service, which is why Summit is committed to bringing this energy option to communities along [U.S.] Route 1,” Summit Natural Gas Chief Executive Officer Kurt Adams said.

Summit hopes to break ground on the main pipeline system for the project by the fall. When the first phase of the pipeline project is completed, commercial and residential customers in Belfast, Camden, Rockport, Rockland and Thomaston can sign up for service. Service could start by late 2022.

Over the next five years, Summit also intends to extend service in the region to include the towns of Northport and Lincolnville.

“Summit’s extension of gas service creates a new option for economic development and for the environmentally minded. Just as businesses require a variety of fuel sources to meet their unique energy needs, folks in the midcoast will now have an additional option for heating their homes as they see fit,” Rockport Town Manager William Post said.

Natural gas is a “relatively clean burning” fossil fuel, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and the use of natural gas results in lower rates of carbon dioxide emissions than oil or coal. Over the first five years of the project, CO2 emissions in the region could be reduced by 263,000 metric tons, according to Adams.

About two-thirds of Maine households use fuel oil as their primary heating source, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which also says natural gas prices are typically cheaper than oil.

To help with the cost of converting homes and businesses to a natural gas system, Summit plans to offer rebates of up to $3,300 for residential customers and $6,600 for commercial customers.

The project will create 100 new jobs in the region, Summit estimates.

The city of Rockland will hold a meeting Feb. 23 to discuss the project. In 2015, a developer proposed building a natural gas plant in the city, but ultimately withdrew the proposal after facing public pushback.