Look out, District 119 candidates

Now that Herb Adams is termed out of the Legislature, those who seek to fill his shoes will find them daunting, to say the least. I have increasingly begun to think Adams never sleeps, because he seemingly has time for everything. He can spend long periods of time engaged in thoughtful conversation with constituents (or reporters), and then ferret out stuff like what is described in this press release from earlier this week.

Apparently, the Maine Public Utilities Commission wants to require the replacement of underground cast-iron natural-gas service lines with plastic ones, though the plastic ones are the ones that are most vulnerable to damage from people digging where they shouldn't, according to information in the release.

But we want to know: what about the iron natural-gas piping that is inside most homes that use that energy source? Do they have to be ripped out too?


Rep. Adams intervenes for consumers in ‘cast iron’ case

Cost of replacing underground pipe with plastic could hit $64 million


PORTLAND – State Rep. Herb Adams has been granted “intervenor” status on behalf of consumers in a landmark utility case that could hit the pocketbook of every Portlander that heats or cooks with natural gas.  The case involves a plan by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to require the replacement of all cast-iron gas lines with plastic ones. And like the cast-iron underground gas lines themselves, the rate hike could remain hidden until too late, said Adams, D-Portland.


The unusual case pits the Public Utilities Commission against Northern Utilities gas company and the Office of the Maine Public Advocate, which defends the interest of Maine consumers and is siding with the gas company, in this case.


“The trouble is the timing,” said Adams. “Replacing Portland’s century-old underground iron pipe system with plastic will cost a fortune.  Do you replace it quickly, and hit consumers with a big bill all at once, or replace it over time, and spread out the costs?”


PUC staff proposes a quick, 12-year replacement program costing $64 million, or about a 67 percent increase in spending. Northern Utilities – supported by the Public Advocate –proposes a 15-20-year program, which would cost consumers a more moderate $5 million in increased rates.


The cast iron gas lines in question serve both businesses and the service lines from the street directly to individual homes.


Northern Utilities is already planning to ask for a 37 percent rate increase for other, non-pipeline reasons. 


“Adding the burden of a quick replacement program will likely require deficit spending and further automatic rate increases – plus the cost and trouble of tearing up the streets again all over town. What is a consumer to do?  Speak up, that’s what,” said Adams. “Gas rate increases hit both homeowners and renters.  Both are captives of the system with few other affordable options.  A public hearing held in Portland will let those most affected by any decision have their say before the PUC acts.”  

Earlier this month, Adams requested, and the PUC agreed, to hold a public hearing in Portland to hear what the ratepayers think about the case.  The hearing has yet to be scheduled.    


Replacing cast-iron with plastic would cost about $2,400 per every Maine gas customer. The $64 million total projected cost would be the largest single per customer impact of any utility project in recent memory, said Adams.


Maine has the least amount of cast-iron pipe in New England and has had no incident involving injury directly caused by cast-iron pipe since 1970, according to figures at the Office of the Public Advocate.  About 14 percent of all Maine pipe is still cast iron, and Northern Utilities is in compliance with all state and federal safety standards, according to filings at the Office of the Public Advocate. Most gas leaks occur as a result of third party incidents on plastic pipe while excavating or digging.


“Who knew what the costs were, hidden beneath our streets?” said Adams. “Most of Parkside, Bayside and East Bayside, the heart of the old industrial and residential city of Portland, are served by these cast-iron lines. Given the dual interests of Portland customers, for safety and for rates, a public witness hearing here is doubly important.”


Other local legislators requesting the Portland hearing include Rep. Anne Haskell , D- Portland and House chair of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee, and Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland and House chair of the Legsilature’s Utilities Committee.


Adams is the longest serving member of the Utilities and Energy Committee of the 124th Legislature. 


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