The Illinois Senate approved legislation Tuesday that supporters say could accelerate rebuilding aging natural gas delivery infrastructure over the next 10 years while maintaining regulatory oversight.

The 10-year blueprint for the Natural Gas Modernization, Public Safety & Jobs Act (SB 2266) is designed to reduce nonhazardous leaks and trim maintenance costs while delivering long-term savings for customers. The proposal was put forward earlier this year by Ameren Illinois and a coalition of business and labor organizations (see Daily GPI, March 27). The bill, which was passed by the Illinois House one day prior to the Senate vote, now awaits the signature of Gov. Pat Quinn.

Ameren Illinois, which is regulated by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), maintains close to 1,250 miles of natural gas transmission lines and nearly 17,000 miles of delivery lines that feed service to more than 806,000 Illinois customers within a 43,700 square-mile territory in Central and Southern Illinois.

Under the legislation, Ameren Illinois would invest $330 million to boost efforts to update its gas transmission, distribution and storage facilities. The blueprint is designed to reduce nonhazardous leaks and trim maintenance costs while delivering long-term savings for customers. The ICC would monitor the process and level penalties if the utility fails to comply.

A typical residential natural gas customer using 785 therms annually would pay about 1 cent/day more for gas delivery services over the 10-year period, according to Ameren Illinois.

“This plan enhances our ability to meet the current and future needs of our gas customers while creating 150 good-paying jobs and maintaining strong consumer protections,” said Ameren Illinois CEO Richard Mark. “It is a win for Illinois customers, businesses and labor, especially here in Central and Southern Illinois.”

The legislation requires Ameren Illinois to file an annual plan with the ICC and report on progress in achieving performance improvements such as decreasing the time to respond to gas emergency calls and preventing damages caused by utility or contractor error.

The updated regulatory framework would enable gas utilities to more quickly recover their initial upfront costs and accelerate modernization efforts designed to meet stricter federal pipeline safety standards imposed by Congress in 2011, Ameren Illinois said.

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