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California Utilities Acquire NatGas Mobile Home Park Pipes

As an outgrowth of state safety laws passed after the San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion, Sempra Energy's Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) has completed the first conversion of a mobile home park gas system to utility ownership and operation.

SoCalGas now operates the gas pipe and metering system for the Mt. Slover Trailer Village in Colton, CA, about 45 miles of east of downtown Los Angeles. The conversion is part of a three-year pilot program initiated last year by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

A CPUC spokesperson said the SoCalGas conversion "is just the start of many more mobile home parks that were expected to have their master-metered gas and/or electric systems converted to direct utility service under the pilot program.

"While no immediate safety hazards exist in mobile home parks due to master-metered systems, the intent of the program is to proactively improve the safety and reliability of utility service received by mobile home park residents, increase the capacity available to these residents from their electric service, and to enable these residents to have access to direct utility services and/or programs that they would not have under their current master-metered service structure," the spokesperson said.

In 2012, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill (AB 1694) into law aimed at improving safety of the historically lightly regulated natural gas and propane distribution piping systems at mobile home parks, of which there are more than 5,000 in the state, providing homes to more than 1 million residents (see Daily GPI, July 18, 2012).

The CPUC followed up with a pilot program looking at ways to provide incentives for the mobile home and manufactured housing developments to voluntarily convert from master-metered, privately owned gas systems to utility operation and maintenance. The goal was to convert 10% of the mobile home parks in each gas utility's territory.

Conversions are being monitored by the CPUC's safety and enforcement division. Following each upgrade, residents become SoCalGas customers and are individually billed by the Los Angeles-based gas utility. The CPUC estimated residents would face very small rate increases, and new customers would be eligible to sign up for various bill-lowering programs, such as low-income discounts for qualifying customers.

SoCalGas executives stressed the safety and reliability that the program is bringing to mobile home parks. "[The conversion] also provides customers greater access to services, money-saving rebates and energy-saving programs," said Jimmie Cho, SoCalGas senior vice president of gas operations and system integrity.

Income-qualifying customers also will have access to a 20% rate discount through the California Alternative Rates for Energy program and no-cost weatherization services through the utility energy savings assistance program, Cho said. SoCalGas' new advanced meter program also will be available to the mobile home park customers.

In setting up the pilot program through 2017, the CPUC called the issues surrounding utility service to mobile home parks "intractable for decades." Central to the program is the goal of providing "safe, reliable and fairly priced delivery of natural gas and/or electricity service to residents of mobile home parks."

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