Summit Natural Gas of Maine announced Monday its plan to go forward with a $110 million expansion next year that will extend natural gas service to the towns of Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth — all near Portland, ME. in the southern part of the state.

Summit’s expansion plan also calls for a phase two build-out of its $350 million Kennebec Valley transmission and distribution project. The Maine Public Utilities Commission approved that project in January (see Daily GPI,Jan. 14). At the time, Summit said the lines would serve 15,000 residential and industrial customers in 17 municipalities by its third year of operations.

In a press release issued Monday, the company offered little details about what that expansion might consist of, but Mike Minkos, president of Summit, said in a statement that “the approval of phase two allows us to expand our infrastructure and serve even more customers next year.”

He added that the company already has contracts with 1,400 customers in the Kennebec Valley.

“This decision is exciting for people in Cumberland, Falmouth and Yarmouth because it allows us to immediately implement our plans to install natural gas pipelines in southern Maine and serve customers by 2014,” Minkos said.

In any event, Monday’s announcement puts Summit a step ahead of Maine Natural Gas (MNG) in the south. MNG has a small service territory in Windham and Gorham, both in southern Maine. The companies have been in a duel of sorts in the Kennebec Valley at the state’s center.

In 2012, state officials selected MNG to build an 80-mile gas pipeline to the state capital in Augusta and surrounding parts of the Kennebec Valley. The move prompted Summit to appeal and both companies found themselves before a special state appeal panel and the Kennebec County Superior Court (see Daily GPI,Oct. 18, 2012).

Maine remains well behind other parts of the country in building a natural gas distribution network, and many parts of the state are completely unserviced. In 2011, the state legislature passed a law to lower the cost of energy in the state and monitor progress in reducing the state’s dependence on oil.

In a report prepared this year by La Capra Associates Inc. — a Boston-based energy consulting firm — for Gov. Paul LePage’s energy office, it was found that approximately 70% of Maine homes use oil as their primary heating fuel. A primary focus of the 2011 legislation was aimed at increasing the use of natural gas in the state as more U.S. onshore drilling has driven the price of natural gas well below that of crude oil.

Summit said Monday that construction on its Kennebec Valley project is well underway, with 99% of the steel transmission pipeline running from Pittston to Madison already installed.

Summit Natural Gas of Maine is a subsidiary of Summit Utilities, Inc., which operates 20 natural gas districts throughout Colorado and Missouri. The company also specializes in providing natural gas to areas that are either difficult to serve, or those that are not being served at all.