Unitil Corp., Maine’s largest natural gas provider, announced Tuesday that it’s paying $70.9 million for Bangor Natural Gas Co., expanding its customer base in the state by nearly one-fourth.

The acquisition could save money for ratepayers by consolidating Maine’s relatively small natural gas industry, the state Public Advocate said. It would leave three natural gas companies operating in Maine.

Thomas P. Meissner Jr., Unitil’s chairman and chief executive officer, said Bangor Natural Gas is a “great complement” to Unitil’s natural gas distribution operations in Maine. Bangor Natural Gas is being acquired from PHC Utilities Inc., a subsidiary of Hope Utilities Inc. of Morgantown, West Virginia.

The acquisition would boost Unitil’s 618-mile distribution network in the state by more than 50%, adding Bangor Natural Gas’ 351 miles of distribution pipelines. The move would join the 8,500 Bangor Natural Gas customers with Unitil’s 33,000 Maine customers. Unitil, known as Northern Utilities, is based in New Hampshire and also serves customers there and in Massachusetts.

Unitil’s service area extends from the Maine-New Hampshire line to Lewiston. Bangor Natural Gas serves customers in Hancock, Penobscot and Waldo counties.

A spokesperson for Bangor Natural Gas referred requests for comment about the acquisition to Unitil.

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The state Public Utilities Commission must approve the deal, which is expected to close by March 2025.

Natural gas is typically used for heating water and buildings, cooking and drying clothes.

State Public Advocate William Harwood said the deal has “potential benefits” for ratepayers and the state if it saves money in consolidating Maine’s natural gas industry, from four companies to three. Maine’s natural gas utilities, which include Summit Natural Gas of Maine and Maine Natural Gas, serve 50,000 customers, which is a relatively small number, he said. The 8,500 Bangor Natural Gas customers is “really small,” he said.

“The big question is, can (Unitil) capture those savings and synergies and pass it on to ratepayers?” Harwood asked.

The PUC’s review of the deal also will provide an opportunity to review how Unitil plans to minimize Bangor Natural Gas’ greenhouse gas emissions and help Maine reach its climate goals, Harwood said.

Unsuccessful legislation this year tried to limit natural gas connections by changing how hookups are financed. The measure would have required prospective businesses and residential customers to pay for natural gas expansions rather than billing ratepayers. Backers said the legislation would limit greenhouse gas emissions and slow the expansion of natural gas pipelines at a time when policymakers are pushing for broader electrification of building heating and cooling systems.

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However, the industry and its business allies opposed the legislation, saying it would hinder economic development by adding to construction costs and housing affordability, and discouraging new manufacturing.

Bangor Natural Gas began building a pipeline system in 1998 that connects Bangor area customers to the Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline, a 684-mile transmission system transporting natural gas from offshore Nova Scotia to Atlantic Canada and the northeastern U.S.

The 295-mile Portland Natural Gas Transmission System spans New England from the Canadian border to pipeline connections in New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts. The system began operations in 1999 and connects three major pipeline networks originating in Canada and the southern U.S.

Shares of Unitil rose a fraction of 1% Tuesday to close at $51.80.

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