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MPUC HOLDS PUBLIC HEARING ON UNITIL CAST IRON GAS PIPE REPLACEMENT CASE IN PORTLAND JUNE 9TH
June 3, 2010
Augusta, Maine— On Wednesday, June 9th, at 6pm, the Maine Public Utilities Commission will hold a public witness hearing regarding Unitil’s (formerly known as Northern Utilities--Northern) replacement program for cast iron and bare steel gas pipelines in Portland and Westbrook. The hearing will be held in Portland City Council Chambers, on the second floor of 389 Congress Street (City Hall). In a public witness hearing, any citizen may participate by providing sworn or unsworn testimony though only sworn testimony becomes evidence in the case. The hearing will be tape recorded and the hearing transcript will be available on the Commission’s website.
“This public hearing gives the Commission an opportunity to hear the views of concerned citizens about the proposed pipeline replacement effort,” noted Commission Chair Sharon Reishus, “It is our job to decide whether the project is in the interest of Maine ratepayers from a safety and a cost perspective and we appreciate the public sharing their views on the project.”
In this case, the Commission must decide—while balancing public safety risks with the cost to ratepayers—the total time period over which to order Northern to replace its cast iron and bare (unprotected) steel pipes with state-of-the -art polyethylene plastic piping materials. The company has proposed a replacement program of 15-20 years in duration and Commission staff has recommended a 12 year replacement program. The overall cost of the project would be similar under either timeframe, although the timing of cost recovery from ratepayers could vary. Under the shorter-term program supported by the Commission staff, the costs to an average residential customer could range from $5 to $20 per year more over the next several years than under the company’s proposed longer-term program, or about 1-2% of the total residential bill.
Background: Upon its take-over of Northern in December 2008, Unitil inherited approximately 65 miles of cast iron and 10 miles of bare steel natural gas pipes in Portland and Westbrook. The original gas pipe systems were installed from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s to carry manufactured coal gas; most of the remaining cast iron pipes are over 70 years old. . The removal of the cast iron and bare steel materials and replacement with polyethelene plastic or protected steel pipe have been a focus of regulatory efforts to improve public safety since the late 90’s.
In 2004, the Commission approved a settlement agreement between Northern and the Office of the Public Advocate for a four-year replacement program in Lewiston and Auburn that removed 49 miles of cast iron pipe and cost approximately $15 million. Northern reported on the Lewiston-Auburn project and then filed a proposal at the Commission for a similar replacement program in Portland/Westbrook. On April 2nd, the Commission released the “Bench Analysis” in the case-- a document which outlines Commission staff’s legal and technical analysis of the evidence submitted to date by Northern. A Hearing Examiner’s Report—the staff’s summary of and recommendations for the case—is scheduled for mid-June.
To view the Bench Analysis and other documents in the case, go to the Commission website (www.maine.gov/mpuc) and access the Virtual Case File. Enter docket number 2008-151 in the Case ID field to retrieve available documents. To write to the Commission, send a letter (referencing Docket Number 2008-151) with the Commission’s Administrative Director, Karen Geraghty, at the Commission, State House Station 18, Augusta, ME 04330.
Contact: Evelyn deFrees, 207-287-6141 email@example.com
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