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The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) approved of an investment increase, as well as a spending increase, for Dominion East Ohio’s Pipeline Infrastructure Replacement (PIR) program in September.
According to a press release from Dominion East Ohio, the PIR program will receive its increased funding through annually rising rates paid by Dominion East Ohio’s customers. Though customers will see a gradual increase in price, the press release states the charges will be “reduced by any cost savings that Dominion achieves as it replaces older pipelines,” and that through the PIR program Dominion East Ohio has “passed savings totaling over $10.2 million back to customers.”
“We take the safety of our customers and our system very seriously and this is a way of demonstrating that commitment,” said Neil Durbin, senior communications specialist for Dominion East Ohio. “It’s a mission that’s agreed with us in terms of the need for such a pipeline infrastructure replacement program.”
The increase in rates will go toward furthering the PIR, a program that will replace more than 5,500 miles of Dominion East Ohio’s 22,000 miles of pipeline. The program started in 2008 and is planned to run for 25 years with $4 billion in funding.
The press release states the current cost recovery charge paid by customers is $8.12 per month. However, with the PUCO-approved funding increase, customers will be paying $1.40 more each year. The charge could continue to rise, with the charge being a $1.75 increase in 2018 and a $1.82 increase in 2019.
According to the press release, the increase in funding toward the PIR program will go toward pipeline work that has been “performed in higher cost urban areas,” as well as new environmental regulations affecting work.
After eight years of the PIR program being enacted, Dominion East Ohio has replaced more than 1,000 miles of pipeline and has already reached its $1 billion spending point. Without the approved increases, the PIR program would have $3 billion left to complete the 17 years of pipeline restoration.
“What we’re finding is most of the easy to replace and less expensive to replace pipe was replaced early on in the program, such as those in rural areas,” Durbin said. “Now a lot of the remaining pipeline that needs to be replaced is in urban areas, where we’ll have to go through sidewalks and streets and it becomes a lot more complicated.”
Mark Messersmith, manager of design for Dominion East Ohio, said the PIR program focused on rural areas for pipeline restoration in the first eight years of the program so his design team, created the same time as PIR was formed, could focus on “key feed lines,” as well as give cities in the urban portion of restoration an early notice.
“Our goal on these large projects is to work with them and give them notice and we couldn’t come out there in year one or two to spring the work on them,” he said. “We’ve always replaced bare steel pipe but with the advent of the program, we can be more proactive. We can be more aggressive at replacing the pipes. Frankly, it means increased work because there are a lot more projects.”
Messersmith said, for urban pipeline restoration, his team works with city officials as they review the project’s “scope, plan and most importantly the impacts it’ll have on the city’s infrastructure.” He said his team has already discussed with 25 cities involved with the PIR program about how much work is left in the community and requested input on the work.
The types of pipes that are being replaced range from materials such as copper, cast iron, wrought iron and bare steel. Durbin said the majority of pipeline being replaced is made of bare steel, but most of natural gas pipes found in homes is made of iron.
Messersmith said the “vintage” of these bare steel pipes being replaced is from the 1950s and earlier. He said the majority of these pipelines will be replaced by either polyethylene plastic or with a specially coated steel pipe for heavier duty systems.
He said the plastic pipes, which have been used since the early 1980s, will be naturally resistant to rust or corrosion, which is a significant problem seen in the older uncoated pipes that are being replaced. The newer steel pipes, which have been installed since the 1960s, will be coated with a paint epoxy which protects the pipes from the harmful effects of dirt.
He said the coated steel pipes are more expensive to purchase but the benefits will provide a “ton of advantages,” such as being cathodically protected, which will protect it from chemical or electrical deterioration.
“We have a good working history of these newer materials,” he said. “We expect them to last for decades.”
Messersmith said the pipeline replacement procedure hasn’t changed much because “we’re still replacing pipe as we did before PIR.” However, he said the difference in procedure for this projects involves the “scope, size and number of projects “ increasing since the start of the program, as well as communication with cities and communities about pipeline replacement.
“We have increased our focus on environmental and the environmental regulations,” he said. “We work very closely with permitting agencies, such as the Ohio EPA and the army corp engineering officers who represent the Ohio area. Some of the environmental regulations have changed since 2008 and beyond that we do far more coordinating with them to try and avoid issues but also to make sure we’re in complete compliance with the weather, law and the intent of the law.”
He said all of the work for the PIR program is conducted in one engineering facility, with Dominion East Ohio’s engineering, construction and inspection groups working together. The major service areas these teams cover include areas such as Akron, Marietta, Lima, Canton, Wooster, New Philadelphia, Ashtabula, Youngstown and Warren.