Entergy Corp. received permission Wednesday to start replacing many of the old pipes that carry natural gas in Baton Rouge.
The $65 million project is the result of a national effort to upgrade aging natural gas pipes that began soon after a 2010 explosion in San Bruno, California, that killed eight people and a 2011 explosion in Allentown, Pennsylvania, that left five dead.
Work in Baton Rouge to replace pipe made of cast iron and bare steel should begin in April and take a decade to complete.
Entergy replaced about 300 miles of pipe in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which became necessary because salt water was corroding the natural gas system.
The Louisiana Public Service Commission, which regulates privately owned utilities in this state, voted 3-1 to approve a special rider that will increase monthly customer bills for Entergy Gulf States Louisiana LLC to pay for the work. The Entergy subsidiary has about 94,000 natural gas customers in Baton Rouge, almost all of whom are residences. The typical residential natural gas customer will pay 43-cents more for the first year; $1.28 more for the second year; and $2.28 more for the third year. The costs will increase about 2 percent each following year.
The typical residential customer buys about 4,000 cubic feet (or 4 mcf) of natural gas each month, according to Entergy.
In the first phase, Entergy is replacing about 25 miles of cast iron pipe, installed in the 1920s. Then another two miles of bare steel, which was the go-to metal in the 1960s. Another 72 miles of vintage plastic, which was new in the 1970s, will be replaced in phase three.
The older pipe will be replaced by pipe made from medium density polyethylene.
The pipes being replaced are distribution pipes, which connect the large transmission pipes, crossing long distances, to deliver natural gas to individual customers. The pipes of individual residences will not be replaced. “As a homeowner, you should inspect the pipes that you own that you’re responsible for,” said Karen Freese, assistant general counsel of Entergy Corp.
Freese said the work will not be that intrusive and will look a lot like other repair jobs in and near streets around Baton Rouge.
PSC Commissioner Scott Angelle, of Breaux Bridge, opposed Entergy’s plan. He voted against the project because of the cost.
The price for consumers goes up each year, he said, and towards the end of the 10-year period could increase monthly bills by $3 to $5.
He would have preferred that the first phase — removing iron and steel — be completed and reviewed before the next phase, which is embarking on the removal of plastic pipe that has proven to be brittle.
“Then we can take a look at what worked well and what needs to work better,” Angelle said.
Kimberly A. Fontan, Entergy’s vice president of regulatory affairs, says the utility’s plan keeps the costs lower in the long term. “We put together a total program.”
The National Transportation Safety Board in January 2011 found that the California explosion was caused when the utility company, Pacific Gas & Electric, increased the flow of natural gas to respond to growing demand and the additional pressure weakened welds and caused the circa 1956 pipe to rupture. The explosion created a crater 167 feet long and 26 feet wide.
In March 2011, U.S. Secretary of the Department of Transportation Ray LaHood called on utilities to develop a comprehensive solution to the country’s aging pipeline infrastructure. He urged utility regulators to develop a way for the companies to quickly upgrade their systems.
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