TECO upgrading 150 miles of gas pipe
By Marilyn Bowden
In response to national concerns about the safety of some natural gas pipelines, TECO Peoples Gas will fast-track its program to upgrade 150 miles of pipes Florida-wide.
"We recently have been working with the Florida Public Service Commission to address a lot of the issues going on nationally," said Rick Wall, director of operations for the East Region of Peoples Gas, which includes Miami-Dade.
Recent natural gas explosions in San Bruno, CA, and Allentown, PA, that killed 11 people and caused extensive property damage led the Department of Transportation to urge natural gas companies to replace obsolete cast-iron and bare steel pipes with pipes made of poly-
ethylene, a high-density plas-
tic, or coated steel, which
Gordon Gillette, president of Tampa-based Peoples Gas, said in a prepared statement that Peoples, which has been replacing older pipes for more than a decade, sought approval from the Florida Public Service Commission to accelerate a replacement program already under way. The new program was unanimously approved Aug. 14.
Cast-iron and bare steel were widely used in pipelines prior to the 1970s.
"While natural gas is relatively new in Florida compared with other states," Mr. Wall said, "we do have some older pipelines in the 60-year range. They test safe, but we want to get them replaced."
Beginning next January, he said, Peoples will start replacing about 150 miles of cast iron pipe and about 400 miles of bare steel pipe, which comprise about 4% of the Peoples Gas system.
The accelerated program, which is expected to take about 10 years at an annual cost of about $8 million, will raise the average residential customer's bill by about 5 cents a month in 2013.
"We are constantly re-investing in the system," said Mr. Wall. "We have initiatives in place in the northern and western areas of Miami-Dade County."
Peoples Gas, he said, began serving customers in the Miami area in the 1920s, when it was known as Peoples Water & Gas Co., and is now the area's largest natural gas provider.
In June 1997, Peoples merged with TECO Energy Inc., an energy-related holding company whose other subsidiaries include Tampa Electric; TECO Coal, which owns and operates coal production facilities in Kentucky and Virginia, and TECO Guatemala, which is engaged in electric power generation and energy-related businesses in Guatemala.
The merger, Mr. Wall said, "gave us greater capital and greater opportunity for expansion."
In Miami-Dade, Peoples' largest customer base is residential, he said. After the widespread power outages in the wake of Hurricane Wilma in 2005, he said, many people began looking for alternate power sources and installing natural gas generators in their homes.
Now, he said, TECO Peoples is looking to expand its commercial base.
"One of the key benefits of natural gas over other fuels," Mr. Wall said, "is that it is readily available. Our systems are underground, so they are protected from the environment and weather.
"Customers can save a lot of money by using natural gas rather than propane gas. Propane is around $2.50-$3.50 per gallon; for residential users, natural gas is about 70 cents a gallon.
"So from a supply and cost-efficiency standpoint, there are some significant advantages for both residential and commercial customers.
"Miami-Dade and Broward, which have had a natural gas pipeline from the 1950s or '60s, have an excellent reliability record."
An emerging market, he said, is the use of compressed natural gas for powering motor vehicles — "from refuse trucks and other hauling-type vehicles to school buses down to the private-car level."
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