Summit Natural Gas of Maine announced Feb. 5 that it plans to extend its service into the Midcoast with a $90 million investment.

The company said in a news release Feb. 5 that its expansion to Knox and Waldo counties "will bring safe and reliable natural gas to residential and commercial customers in communities along the Route 1 corridor including, Belfast, Camden, Rockland, Rockport and Thomaston."

The company said this will allow customers to convert from oil to "cleaner burning natural gas."

“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 Route 1. We are very excited to help Belfast, Camden, Rockland and other towns in the region strengthen their economies while providing them with a lower emission fuel alternative," Summit’s Chief Executive Officer Kurt Adams said in the news release.

He claims over the first five years of the project, emissions will be reduced by 263,000 metric tons, which is equivalent to taking 57,000 cars off the road.”

Rockport Town Manager William Post is quoted in the news release as saying “I am pleased to learn that Summit Utilities will be bringing natural gas to the Midcoast area and especially Rockport. 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."

Belfast Mayor Eric Sanders is quoted in the news release as saying “On behalf of myself and the City Council, I wholeheartedly welcome Summit Natural Gas of Maine to Belfast. Summit offers a long overdue choice for Belfast residents when it comes to their energy source. From pricing to environmental benefits, this is a unique opportunity for our region."

Rockland City Manager Tom Luttrell said the company had a brief discussion with the city's economic and community development director but at that time there were no concrete plans.

Summit is offering rebates of up to $3,300 for residential and $6,600 for commercial customers to convert to natural gas.

The company said roughly 100 new jobs will be created in the Midcoast by the construction of the $90 million project.

Summit said hopes to break ground on pipeline in the fall.

Chace Jackson with Summit said Feb. 5 that in addition to running a pipeline down to the Midcoast communities, there will also need to be two regulator stations that will each sit on a half acre to one acre parcels and are used to convert the high pressure gas to lower pressure that can then be distributed to neighborhoods.

He said one station would likely be in Belfast or very close to Belfast and the other centrally located to Rockland, Thomaston, Camden and Rockport. Jackson said the regulator centers would likely be sited in an industrial or business park.

Natural gas distributors are regulated by the Public Utilities Commission. PUC spokeswoman Susan Faloon said the expansion of a natural gas line into an area not served already by natural gas does not require PUC approval. Rates for the natural gas, however, will need approval.

Service is expected to start for residential and commercial customers in late 2022 following the completion of an initial phase of the project.

By 2026, Summit hopes to have made service available to more than 6,500 customers and extended their footprint into the towns of Lincolnville and Northport.

In May 2015, Rockland Energy Center LLC., which was affiliated with Energy Management Inc. of Boston, came to the city proposing a natural gas power plant to be located at the City Hall and adjacent Public Works garage property. That plan was met by considerable opposition by the public and the company dropped its plans.

Rockland City Councilor Nate Davis, who formerly served on the city's energy committee, said he is not familiar with the plans announced by Summit but questioned whether natural gas was overall a cleaner source of energy.

Davis was among the environmentalists who gathered at the Rockland Breakwater in July 2016 to point out that natural gas should not be a bridge fuel to renewable energy sources.

He said natural gas burns cleaner than coal and oil but the extraction, transportation and storage of the fuel nullifies the benefits as a plausible bridge fuel.