AUGUSTA, Maine(NEWS CENTER) -- There's a battle of sorts going on in the Augusta area, and its all about natural gas. Two companies are installing natural gas pipelines in the capitol city, and plan to have their first customers hooked up next month.

Maine Natural Gas says iot began building a 24-mile main pipeline, or "backbone", about eleven months ago. That pipeline feeds the new Maine General Hospital -due to open Nov. 9.

Maine Natural says it began pumping gas to the building on Thursday, and achievement it calls "a milestone". At the same time, Summit Natural Gas is building its own 66-mile pipeline to Augusta and up the Kennebec Valley to Waterville and Madison.

Summit started work in July, and says it will start sending gas to customers next month. Both companies say there's a lot of interest from businesses and homeowners to change to natural gas for heat, because the price can be as much as 40% less than heating oil.

Maine Natural Gas says it has about 250 customers signed up in Augusta. Summit says it has signed up about 1,000 customers throughout the Kennebec Valley area.

Augusta is where both are competing for customers, especially the big users. Maine Natural was able to secure contracts for most state government buildings in the city, including the Statehouse complex. The LePage Administration says they hope to begin burning gas in those two buildings before the end of the year. Summit has secured contracts with the city of Augusta for schools and other public buildings, and says gas should start flowing to at least some of those places in November and December.

Both companies have been battling to sign up large industrial users, and Summit says the pipeline to Waterville and Madison will serve both the Sappi and Madison paper mills. Both companies say they intend to keep working next year to expand service to many more residential customers.

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