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Photo Courtesy: CBS

PUC urges Philly to fix gas pipes

To replace Philadelphia’s city-owned utility’s leaking gas pipes, it will take 88 years under a project approved by the Philadelphia Public Utility Commission (PUC) in 2013.

On Monday, the commission announced it has started an in-depth safety review of the plan and is putting pressure on the city to fix the old, leaking pipes.

The push for the pipes to be replaced come from a failed attempt to sell Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW) to a private company, which was a way the PUC was hoping to get the job done faster.

PUC Chairman Rob Powelson commented on the replacement project:

We felt that after taking in all of that information, two areas of concern that came back [were] the high propensity of cast iron [and] bare steel … And how do we adequately replace that without causing shock to ratepayers?

The gas mains became the central theme of the hearing the PUC held in November, before the deal with UIL Holdings Corp. failed.  UIL stated it would be able to speed up the process of replacing the pipes, but the company was unable to tell the public due to the Philadelphia City Council declining a hearing on the offer.

According to StateImpact Pennsylvania, an estimated two-thirds of PGW’s gas mains are made of cast iron and bare steel, which are susceptible to leaks and breaks.   The leaks and breaks in the pipes contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, which can cause health and environmental issues.

The review will focus on analyzing PGW’s current plan and removing barricades to speed up replacement of the old pipes with stronger plastic pipes.

Powelson explained how the commission will also be looking at whether or not to force the city of Philadelphia to give up its $18 million annual fee from the PGW and put the money back towards the main replacement plan.  Since 2000, the commission has had regulatory oversight of the utility’s rates.

Powelson commented on the time frame the public will consider:

Having a system that is going to be replaced in 88 years, I think if you ask the average citizen, it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when something’s going to happen.

However, there are other views being voiced.  Marian Tasco, Philadelphia City Councilwoman is in charge of the Philadelphia Gas Commission, thinks the PUC’s safety talk is a joke and that the commission is seeking revenge against the council for not backing the PGW sale.

A main point Tasco shared goes back to April 2013 when the PUC passed PGW’s plan to add a “distribution system improvement charge” to consumers bills in order to fund infrastructure upgrades.

Tasco expressed her view regarding the PGW’s additional charge on consumer’s bills:

If the PUC was so concerned about the safety of the mains, they would have allowed more dollars for main replacement when they gave us the DISC program.

In response, Powelson disagreed that the PUC’s actions are politically motivated.  He also said the review of the replacement plan will be completed by April 15, 2015.

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