Public Service Electric & Gas Co. asked New Jersey regulators Monday to approve a request to spend $1.6 billion over the next five years to upgrade its natural gas distribution network, nearly tripling the replacement rate of high-risk mains.
PSE&G is the latest utility in the region to propose accelerating replacement of aging gas mains, which have been linked to leaks and explosions.
The company proposes to replace about 160 miles of cast-iron and unprotected-steel gas mains per year, up from a current rate of 54 miles. It also proposes to annually replace about 11,000 unprotected-steel service lines connecting homes and businesses to gas mains.
PSE&G, whose network serves 1.9 million gas customers, has 4,051 miles of cast-iron mains - more than any other utility in the nation, according to 2013 data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. It also has 279 miles of bare-steel mains.
Almost 25 percent of the utility's 17,698 miles of mains are considered "high risk."
"While our cast-iron and unprotected-steel gas pipes represent less than 30 percent of our infrastructure, they account for 80 percent of distribution systems leaks each year, excluding third-party damages," said Ralph LaRossa, PSE&G's president.
Cast-iron and bare-steel pipes are more susceptible to corrosion or cracking with age. The lines are replaced with more durable plastic pipes.
State and federal regulators are pressuring gas utilities across the nation to replace aging distribution systems, which are linked to explosions and methane leaks that contribute to climate change. The most vulnerable systems tend to be in old industrial cities in the Northeast.
Peco Energy Co. last month sought approval to increase gas-main infrastructure spending from $34 million per year to $61 million, to increase gas-main replacement rate from 30 miles a year to 50.
About 15 percent of Peco's 6,761-mile system is considered "high risk."
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission in January ordered a study of Philadelphia Gas Works' plans to replace its aging infrastructure. About half of PGW's 3,024 miles of gas mains are "high risk," the second-highest rate in the nation.
Utilities say it's an opportune moment to spend money to upgrade infrastructure because of low interest rates to finance the work and because low energy costs will reduce the impact on customer rates.
PSE&G's proposal would increase rates about 2 percent a year, said Brooke Houston Fisher, a PSE&G spokeswoman. The cumulative impact after five years would add $8.60 a month to the average residential bill.
PSE&G's upgrades would also replace low-pressure systems with high-pressure mains, which are equipped with automatic shutoffs if the lines are damaged.
BY THE NUMBERS
Gas customers at PSE&G.
Miles of cast-iron mains in the network.
Miles of bare-steel mains in the network.
Proportion of mains in the PSE&G system at high risk.