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Business and Economy

Maine Officials Cheer Plans for $3 Billion Natural Gas Expansion

Two of the region's largest energy firms have announced plans to expand natural gas in Maine and New England as a way to eliminate shortages during the winter months. Spectra Energy Corp. and Northeast Utilities will partner for the $3 billion project that is expected begin operation in November 2018.  

 

It's a huge project that supporters say could eventually lower electric and heating bills to levels that could make Maine more competitive with the rest of New England. The new Access Northeast pipeline would ship natural gas north via the Algonquin pipeline corridor, which runs from New Jersey to Everett, Mass., and then on to Maine via the Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline.

Marylee Hanley is an outreach specialist for Spectra Energy that is based in Houston, Texas. "So it will open up access to Maine consumers for additional clean, reliable, domestic natural gas to heat their homes and fuel their businesses," Hanley says.

Hanley says the $3 billion project will be capable of reliably delivering in excess of $1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day to serve the region's most efficient power plants, and to meet increasing demand from heating customers. As the company embarks on the project, it will be inviting new potential customers throughout New England to signal their interest in converting to natural gas.

"We're in the very, very preliminary stages, and we will be receiving offers of expressions of interest between now and Oct. 31, and once we receive those expressions of interest, we'll be able to determine the facilities required to meet the needs of customers," Hanley says.

In Maine, news of the proposed pipeline expansion was welcomed by the governor's office. New England governors had considered imposing a new tax on electric customers to fund additional natural gas pipeline construction -- a plan that was ultimately put on hold by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

Patrick Woodcock, director of Gov. Paul LePage's energy office, says the project underscores the need for New England's governors to renew plans for additional pipelines in their states in order for Spectra to maximize its potential.

"They clearly need those mechanics outlined from the governors to move the project at the scale that the companies would like, so the governor's office is certainly appreciative of these companies stepping forward," Woodcock says, "and now the governors need to do the same and move forward with a bold initiative to bring natural gas to market in New England."

The region has been plagued by spot shortages resulting in massive hikes in the cost of the fuel. Part of the reason is the lack of natural gas infrastructure in New England. The project would need the approval of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which would review the company's plans to use existing pipeline corridors to minimize effects on landowners.

Pat Scully is the chief executive officer of the Bernstein Shur law firm, and a leading consultant on energy issues. He says the proposal will be thoroughly vetted during FERC process.

"It's not necessarily something that one should view as a necessarily major impediment to the effort because federal policy certainly supports the expansion of natural gas infrastructure," Scully said.

In addition to the Spectra proposal, other pipeline projects for New England also being discussed including a much debated plan to move gas from Pennsylvania through New York to Western Massachusetts.