PSE&G Sets Pace for Replacing Cast-Iron Mains with Plastic Pipes

Tom Johnson | September 20, 2016 | Energy & Environment
But with 4,000 miles of iron pipe in its system, state’s largest utility has a long way to go

PSE&G workers in Totowa are replacing aging cast-iron and steel mains with new plastic pipelines.
No utility in the nation is digging up old cast-iron natural-gas mains as often and replacing them with more durable piping than Public Service Electric & Gas — according to new analysis conducted over the past three years.

The 113-year-old Newark utility currently has about 4,000 miles of iron gas pipe in its systems — more than any operator in the state or the nation, according to Ralph LaRossa, president and COO of PSE&G.

From 2013 to 2015, the state’s largest and oldest utility replaced 227 miles of cast-iron pipe, which is more likely to develop leaks and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change. PSE&G also replaced 390 miles of unprotected bare steel mains and service lines.

“While cast iron and unprotected steel pipes represent less than 30 percent of our total infrastructure, they account for 80 percent of distribution system leaks each year, excluding third-party damages,’’ LaRossa said.

With natural gas displacing coal as the main way to produce electricity and heat homes and businesses, utilities across the nation face increasing pressure from regulators to limit leaks from their gas pipes.

Taking advantage of low natural gas prices, the Board of Public Utilities has approved accelerated spending by utilities to replace aging gas pipelines. For instance, South Jersey Gas replaced 462 miles of unprotected steel pipes while New Jersey Natural Gas replaced 419 miles of bare steel pipes. South Jersey removed another 103 miles of cast iron mains.

The analysis was performed by SNL Energy, an offering of S&P Global Market Intelligence, which recently released data from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The PSE&G mains and service lines are being replaced with strong, durable plastic piping, which is much less likely to have leaks and release methane gas. The new elevated pressure systems also enable the installation of excess flow valves that automatically shut off gas flow if a service line is damaged, and provide better support for high-efficiency appliances.

“Our regulators have recognized the importance of replacing these higher-risk pipes and have approved accelerated programs to make these improvements now, while gas-supply prices are at historically low levels,’’ LaRossa said.

PSE&G has won approval for two separate programs for gas pipe replacement, including 240 miles of older gas pipes as part of its $1.2 billion Energy Strong program to make its energy infrastructure more resilient.

In addition, the utility received regulators go-ahead for a $900 million gas modernization program in 2015. So far this year, the utility has replaced 110.5 miles of pipe in 102 communities.