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Demand for Natural Gas in Bangor Area Heats Up
09/28/2012   Reported By: Jennifer Mitchell

With winter fast approaching, the cost of home heating oil is looming large for many, especially the farther north you go. And with the price of crude hovering near $100 per barrel, cheap oil is an oxymoron. But increasingly Mainers are also making it a fading memory by switching to natural gas.

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"You know there's so much demand right now that Bangor Gas is scrambling as hard as they can to satisfy all the demand. And there are still a lot of areas just in Bangor that are heavily populated where they still don't have gas," said Paul Cook. Based in Bangor, Cook manages real estate properties around Maine, from small apartments and home rentals, to strip malls.

He was part of the first wave of customers who started pushing for natural gas service in the area, about five years ago. He said he's had good luck getting many of his properties plugged into the still relatively new pipeline system in Bangor; but even in the middle of town, some of his other buildings are still waiting for service.

"They are working a lot of crews around the clock and then we have to remember that in Maine they have a lot shorter season to get this done because of cold weather," said Bangor Gas spokesman Jonathan Kunz. He said the company has received about 2,000 requests for service this year; but only about half of those customers will be connected, from Bangor to Old Town. It's not as many as the utility would like but it's still more than double the number of connections made five years ago. And there's a reason for its popularity.

"Pricewise right now, I hate to tell people this, I'm on oil because I live in Hampden and we don't have gas, but today's price right now is 85 cents compared to the gallon of oil for the same BTU conten," Kunz said.

In other words, if you normally burn 900 gallons of fuel oil at a cost of $3,400, an equivalent amount of heat from gas would cost just over $750 dollars. The savings are significant. But the initial investment to convert a home heating system from oil to natural gas can be enormous, ranging from $2,000 to more than $8,000 dollars.That kind of money isn't in everyone's budget. Kunz said that's why Bangor Gas is offering to do the actual piping hookup and installation for free. It doesn't defray all the cost, but he said, it saves the homeowner from shelling out an extra $2,000.

For those who don't get service this year, the wait could be a long one, said Richard Hill, an energy specialist and professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Maine.

"I blame our whole energy crisis on President Eisenhower who spread us out all over the countryside with his highway," Hill said. "We deserve to live in closer clusters that could be served by natural gas, but because we've decided that we all want to live on two acre lots, it's going to be pretty hard."

Hill said that the current tactic of trying to ship the resources to all the people, wherever they are, is not reasonable for places like northern Maine. Rather, he said people in the state are going to have to start rethinking how they live.

But it's not all dire news for residents north of Bangor. Bangor Gas is actively pursuing a deal with the Loring Development Authority for their gas pipeline which runs from Searsport to Limestone. The company would then tap that pipeline to supply the mill industry in Millinocket, and with it the surrounding residences up through the densest population centers in Aroostook County. That can't come soon enough for some potential customers said Jonathan Kunz. He said that they get calls like these everyday.

"'Please? I need it now.' That's what's happening" Kunz said. "We're in a nice position, but we also wish we could do more in the way of connecting people up because we do understand the situations of a lot of people with this cost of fuel."

The company is also looking at the feasibility of compressing gas and shipping it in containers to outlying areas.

As for whether people still love the price of gas in five years, Professor Hill said there's no doubt that the price of gas will increase somewhat, but he said that the price people will pay is much more stable than oil.


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