Summit Natural Gas told the university it cannot commit to the goal of bringing service to the town by 2016.
By Kaitlin Schroeder, Morning Sentinel
Morning Sentinel news story
The University of Maine at Farmington is back to exploring its options for energy services, putting a Farmington connection to natural gas in doubt after Summit Natural Gas told the university it cannot commit to meeting a goal of bringing natural gas service to the town by 2016.
UMF officials say they are looking at other energy sources.
“In light of Summit’s decision, UMF will continue to explore alternative energy sources in its commitment to find the most viable fuel supply for the needs of the campus and economic development of the region,” President Kathryn Foster said in a statement.
Farmington residents and business owners were previously told by Summit executives that a natural gas pipeline will not be built to Farmington unless Franklin County’s largest customer, UMF, commits to natural gas.
In a press release, UMF stated it will “engage stakeholders” while considering its options. The delay in bringing natural gas to UMF and the school’s decision to consider other energy sources inject uncertainty into hopes that natural gas service would be available to homes and businesses in Farmington.
“It just points out the uncertainty of natural gas coming to this area,” Farmington Town Manager Richard Davis said on Monday. “It doesn’t look likely that it will.”
Davis said the breakdown doesn’t seem to be coming from the university, but from the natural gas company being unable to build the pipeline on the schedule officials had expected.
He said at their next meeting, selectmen will be talking about what the ramifications of the delay are for the town.
Farmington officials and business leaders have been hoping for natural gas service to come to the town to lower the cost of living and doing business.
The selectmen agreed in August to defer repaving a stretch of Route 2 in anticipation of a pipeline being built along the stretch and possibly damaging a newly paved road.
The University of Maine System released a request for proposals for alternatives to oil as an energy source in December 2012. An internal committee weighed UMF’s options before UMF announced its intent to negotiate a contract with Summit in December 2013.
During the negotiations, a professor and representative of the Sustainable Campus Coalition who sat on the internal committee said he wanted the school to go with a biomass boiler with wood pellets as an alternative fuel instead of natural gas.
The coalition has a long-term goal of UMF having a zero net impact on greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. The university’s first target would occur in 2015, when the coalition’s plan calls for a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2007 levels.
In the coalition’s report on carbon neutrality, natural gas is listed as a nonrenewable energy that the campus should move away from.
Foster said at the time that a biomass boiler could have been a good fit for the university if the choice didn’t compromise the rest of the community’s ability to get natural gas.
In UMF’s statement responding to Summit’s revelation that it may not be able to hit the 2016 target date for completing a gas pipeline to Farmington, the university said it will be looking at energy options that can further its goals of reducing its use of heating oil and reducing its carbon footprint.