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PA PUC Weighs Settlement With Columbia Gas, Approves UGI System Improvement Charges

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) has released a settlement with Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania for public comment that alleges safety violations at two of the company's work sites in the state.

The commission voted unanimously last week to issue the settlement for comments. The PUC's independent Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement conducted investigations after two incidents happened during infrastructure replacement projects in Allegheny and Lawrence counties. The bureau said failure to take precautions at those sites and provide necessary training about Columbia’s operating procedures caused injuries for two subcontractors.

The settlement requires Columbia to take action and implement revisions to its operating procedures. Some of its training procedures would also have to be revised and it would be required to pay a $50,000 civil penalty that can't be recovered from ratepayers. Columbia serves about 423,000 residential, industrial and government customers in the state.

In separate news, the commission approved a distribution system improvement charge (DSIC) for the UGI Utilities Inc. gas division that would allow it to accelerate infrastructure improvements in the state. The DSIC would help UGI fund its long-term infrastructure improvement plan, which calls for replacing cast iron mains within 14 years and bare steel mains within 30 years of March 2013.

UGI expects to spend $51.2 million annually on the upgrades until 2018. The DSIC would take effect in January.

Both regulators and gas utilities in the state have prioritized accelerating the replacement of aging cast iron and unprotected steel pipelines to improve public safety and system reliability. Cast iron was used in the oldest portions of UGI's system, and it is vulnerable to breakage from ground movement. The industry transitioned to bare steel and wrought iron piping and used those materials until the 1960s, but steel is susceptible to corrosion and older plastic piping is vulnerable to stress cracking.

In addition to replacing older pipelines, UGI plans to install excess flow valves, relocate meters and replace other equipment in its system. UGI provides gas service to about 356,000 customers in Eastern and Central Pennsylvania. Its system consists of 5,423 miles of distribution lines and 117 miles of transmission lines.

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