BPU OKs Elizabethtown Gas’s Proposal to Rip Up, Replace Aging Mains

Utility’s scaled-down plan covers 250 miles of infrastructure, as well as excess-flow valves on new service lines, but should have no impact on customers’ bills

Credit: Creative Commons
rusty gas mains
Elizabethtown Gas is the latest utility to win approval from state regulators to spend hundreds of millions of dollars over the next five years to replace aging gas mains and make other investments in its system.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities unanimously approved Wednesday a scaled-down infrastructure-investment program for the subsidiary of South Jersey Industries to replace 250 miles of aging cast-iron and steel mains, as well as installing excess-flow valves on new service lines.

The utility’s program follows similar large investments made by gas and electric distribution companies to modernize their infrastructure at a time when low gas prices have cushioned the effect of those expenditures on customers.

There is no proposed impact to customers’ bills at this time, although the utility will be allowed to recover costs in future filings to the BPU.

Elizabethtown executives said the projects will enhance the safety and reliability of its distribution system, reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and facilitate economic development.

“Our 295,000 customers trust us to provide safe, reliable, affordable natural-gas service and this program reinforces our commitment to them,’’ said Christie McMullen, president of Elizabethtown Gas. “The IIP prioritizes methane-emissions reductions and enhances our long-term system reliability.’’

As part of the approval, the company also plans to move gas meters from inside customers’ houses to the outside, according to BPU staff. The utility originally proposed a $518 million spending program, but it was scaled back in a stipulated settlement with regulators.

With gas prices near historic lows, the BPU has been advocating aggressive investment programs by the state’s utilities to modernize their distribution systems. Earlier this year, New Jersey Natural Gas filed a petition seeking to invest $500 million over the next five years; it has yet to be considered by the agency.