Thousands of Peoples Natural Gas customers to get new service lines

Prodded by state regulators, Peoples Natural Gas has agreed to replace more than 150,000 gas pipelines that run under customers’ homes over the next 20 years.

City of Pittsburgh residents will be among the first to benefit as the North Shore-based utility pivots its long-term infrastructure improvement plan to a new, urban focus.

Peoples’ 20-year infrastructure plan, which began three years ago, involves replacing some 2,000 miles of gas distribution mains across its service area, with the first half a dozen years concentrated heavily in Pittsburgh.

The effort will swap out old, bare steel and cast iron pipelines for new plastic models.

The gas that feeds furnaces and appliances inside a home is carried from a utility main through a spoke that connects to a meter before entering the home. That spoke is typically owned by the customer who is responsible for its health and integrity.

In previous years, Peoples would conduct tests on those customer-owned service lines and replace those that posed a danger. But the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which oversees utilities’ rates and spending, told Peoples to start replacing all “at-risk” customer lines that it encounters along its distribution line replacement route. The PUC has labeled all bare steel, cast iron and copper pipes “at-risk” because, unprotected, they will corrode over time.

Other utilities have already initiated programs to replace all such customer-owned service lines within their pipeline improvement plans.

That means if Peoples is working in a neighborhood, it’s likely the bare steel service lines there will be replaced with new plastic pipelines.

In some cases, the company won’t even need to ruffle the homeowner’s lawn, said Kenneth Lyle, director of operations and restoration. Where the old steel pipe is wide enough, Peoples can insert a smaller-diameter plastic cylinder through it.

The shift to focus more heavily on urban areas will mean that Peoples will replace all bare steel distribution mains in Pittsburgh within the next five to seven years. Customer service lines will go along for the ride.

That applies largely to customers who used to be with Equitable Gas before Peoples bought that utility at the end of 2013.

Signs of Peoples’ efforts are obvious to East End travelers these days.

“We’re doing projects within Lawrenceville, Squirrel Hill,” Mr. Lyle said. “We’re in the North Side also and have done a lot recently on the South Side.”

Peoples told the PUC it has been averaging about $1,204 for each customer service line replacement.

Anya Litvak: or 412-263-1455.

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