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Philly Gas Works gets rate hike to replace dangerous lines

| Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, 5:06 p.m.

Philadelphia Gas Works expects to shave 40 years off its schedule to replace some of the oldest, most dangerous gas distribution pipes in the nation, thanks to a 2.5 percent rate increase approved Thursday by the state Public Utility Commission.

The commission voted 5-0 to allow the utility — the largest municipally owned gas utility in the country — to exceed the 5 percent surcharge it adds to customers' monthly bills to pay for infrastructure improvements. The new 7.5 percent rate will cut the utility's projected replacement timeline for its cast iron and bare, unprotected steel gas mains from 88 years to 48, utility spokesman Barry O'Sullivan stated.

The 2.5 percent rate increase will raise the typical monthly bill for the utility's 500,000 customers by about $1.65, O'Sullivan stated.

“There is no question that PGW needs to accelerate its main replacement program. The system is old and leaky and endangers the public safety,” Commissioner Robert F. Powelson said.

An award-winning Tribune-Review investigation, “Invisible Threat,” found that Philadelphia Gas Works' 1,500 miles of cast iron pipelines, the oldest and most leak-prone type of distribution pipe, account for about half of all the cast iron pipe in use in Pennsylvania.

Every other gas utility in the state planned to replace the last of its cast iron pipeline by 2047, the Trib noted. Philadelphia's timeline before the PUC rate increase stretched to 2100, meaning most people alive now would be dead before it was completed.

To read the Trib's “Invisible Threat” series, go online at: http://triblive.com/investigative/specialprojects/invisiblethreat/.

Mike Wereschagin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7900 or mwereschagin@tribweb.com.

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