A new project announced last week is intended to help meet growing demand for natural gas in New England.

The Access Northeast project seeks to address New England's reliability concerns and also reduce costs paid by the region's electric and gas consumers.

Spectra Energy and Northeast Utilities (NU) plan to upgrade and expand the existing Algonquin and Maritimes pipeline systems to deliver increased daily supplies of natural gas to consumers, to provide enhanced service on peak days for natural gas-fueled electric generation plants and to enable rapid response to sudden changes in power output.

By utilizing existing routes, the project is expected to minimize effects on communities, landowners and the environment.

According to the partners, Access Northeast will be scalable to meet growing needs and will be capable of reliably delivering in excess of one billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.

Spectra Energy and NU will be equal partners in the project, with the option of additional investors joining in the future. The cost of the expansion is estimated at approximately $3 billion and the enhanced system has an anticipated in-service date of November 2018.

The two companies said that they would work with representatives of the electric and gas industry to establish the levels of firm natural gas supply required to ensure generation reliability and to support growth in demand.