Summit Build Out Brings Natural Gas To Underserved Maine

By Michael Reed, Contributing Editor | August 2014, Vol. 69, No. 8
Summit's President Michael Minkos stands beside a stretch of pipeline.

In February, when Summit Natural Gas of Maine began providing natural gas to Gardiner, ME, businesses and residents who until then had relied on propane or heating oil, it was only part of a much bigger story.

Summit, which specializes in bringing natural gas to underserved communities in the largely rural state, plans to invest $460 million in transmission and distribution projects in the Pine Tree State over the next five years, reaching more than 52,000 customers when the expansion effort is complete.

“We are undertaking something that hasn’t been done for a very long time,” Summit President Michael Minkos explained. “This is a very large build-out to new areas of Maine.”

In the past year, the company has built out the first phase of its Kennebec Valley project from Pittston to Madison in an effort that included construction of 68 miles of steel main pipeline – 38 miles of that for distribution.

Natural gas service is now available in the communities of Gardiner, Hallowell, Augusta, Waterville, Fairfield and Madison. Summit will build 153 miles of distribution lines during 2014.

“This project is pretty unusual for New England,” Minkos said, who brings with him over 35 years of electric and gas utility experience. “There aren’t too many brand-new gas distribution companies born in such a short period of time and of this magnitude.”

An especially difficult winter, even by Maine standards, helped to underscore the need for additional natural gas infrastructure throughout New England, even in places that already had distribution. For much of Maine though, the availability of natural gas would mean a new source of fuel had finally arrived.

“We have gotten a tremendous welcome,” Minkos said. “We are going into three new communities; Cumberland, Yarmouth and Falmouth this year. The community leaders have been working with us for over a year so people will be able to convert to natural gas as soon as it’s available.”

Clean savings

While also touted as a cleaner fuel, one of the chief selling points for new customers in Maine has been financial savings, which in the case of residential customers may cut bills 30-50 percent, according to Summit. On the commercial side, where more than 200 commercial customers have already signed contracts with Summit, customers are likely to save up to 30 percent.