PSE&G Accelerates Pace of Replacement Program

April 2016, Vol. 243, No. 4

Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE&G), New Jersey’s largest utility, recently got the go-ahead to speed up its gas pipeline infrastructure modernization efforts through a supplemental program to replace 38,000 service lines.

New Jersey regulators approved a PSE&G plan to replace 400 miles of gas mains over a three-year period and allow the utility to recover the $650 million cost with higher rates. PSE&G also committed to cover the $205 million cost of installing an additional 110 miles of gas mains in the next three years.

“The work is going to span across 11 counties, mostly concentrated in urban areas with materials, some of it dating back to the early 1900s,” said John Latka, PSE&G vice president of Electric and Gas Operations. “That’s really where all the cast-iron mains and unprotected steel pipes are located.”

Work will begin this spring and is expected to be completed in late 2018. While the overall PSE&G infrastructure replacement program covers about 55 miles per year, the accelerated portion of the program will cover about 170 miles per year. The key elements include the upgrading of utilization pressures and the move to higher operating pressures, installation of flow valves and use of high-efficiency appliances.

Work crews will be using open-trench direct bury “a fairly good percentage of the time,” according to Latka, but will also employ the modified sliplining technique, which involves inserting the new pipe inside a larger pipe. There will also be some trenchless work done, which causes the least environment impact and requires minimal restoration but, as Latka pointed out, “you just can’t do it everywhere.”

“The new material that we are going to be using is high-density polyethylene, 8 inches and smaller for service replacements, and 12 inches for the protected steel mains,” he said.

The replacement piping is much less prone to leaking and the release methane than older types. New elevated pressure systems will allow for increased gas pressure and installation of excess flow valves that automatically shut off gas flow to damaged service lines.

With much of the infrastructure targeted for replacement having been in the ground for a century in cities that have obviously grown densely above it, congestion, said Latka, is chief among the obstacles facing work crews.

“It’s not just congestion with the gas services,” the 33-year PSE&G veteran said. “The municipalities might have water and other utilities that want to get work done, so they really like you to come in and make a cut in the road, have everything done at one time in a coordinated way.”

Latka said PSE&G has “a great relationship with our towns,” and in most cases residents and elected officials are eager to have the work done, despite some level of temporary inconvenience.

The utility employs a sizeable public affairs group that travels to locations where work is slated and meets with community leaders. PSE&G outlines the schedule it plans to follow, then uses letters, door hangers, news releases and Facebook to further inform the public.

“We also have a page on our website people can go to learn when work and paving are going to be done,” Latka said. “It includes what streets we’re going to be on, so it’s pretty comprehensive. It works well having everything in one place for a town.”

Engineering and planning of the construction is underway with PSE&G working with municipalities to determine an exact schedule for replacement work. At the end of the Gas System Modernization Program, the same residential customer is projected to see a total cumulative increase of $4.80 monthly, or 1.5% annually for four years.

Headquartered in Newark, PSE&G serves a 2,600-square-mile area, running diagonally through the state from Bergen County in the northeast corner of the state to Gloucester County in the southwest. The company serves 1.8 million gas customers and 2.2 million electric customers, including those in New Jersey’s six largest cities.

“We have 100-plus years of service to New Jersey, and we’re certainly looking to do another 100-plus more,” Latka said. “This program takes us there. It’s a great programs, and we are really excited about it.”

Flexible Workforce

With a project of this scope, many companies have had trouble in recent years finding enough qualified people to do the work. According to Latka, though, PSE&G has been “really fortunate” in that regard.

“It’s been a really flexible workforce,” he said. “We’ve had some peaks and valleys, certainly we’ve had a peak in the last several years because we’ve had a project called Energy Strong before this.”

The $1.2 billion Energy Strong program includes replacement of 250 miles of low-pressure, cast-iron gas mains in flood-prone areas, as well as relocation and bolstering of protection for electrical switching and substations. Currently, PSE&G said its system contains 3,000 miles of cast-iron and 1,000 miles of steel lines. Energy Strong focuses on building the resiliency into systems so as to withstand the devastating effects of storms such as Superstorm Sandy.

In 2012, the disaster left over 1.7 million PSE&G customers without power. More than one-third of PGE&G’s transmission circuits, half of its sub-transmission circuits and over three-quarters of its distribution circuits were interrupted. The Nor’easter the following week created more damage, putting temporary repairs at risk.

As part of the Energy Strong program, PSE&G said it is making the following investments during the next few years:

  • $620 million to protect, raise or relocate 29 switching and substations that were damaged by water in recent storms.
  • $350 million to replace and modernize 250 miles of low-pressure, cast-iron gas mains in or near flood areas.
  • $100 million to create redundancy in the system, reducing outages when damage occurs.
  • $100 million to deploy smart grid technologies to better monitor system operations to increase our ability to more swiftly deploy repair teams.
  • $50 million to protect five natural gas metering stations and a liquefied natural gas station affected by Sandy or located in flood zones.

“This program kind of runs right through that [the Energy Strong Program], and we’ve already hired a lot of the workforce that we’re going to continue to use,” Latka said. “We haven’t had any issues and that has to do with having a really good working relationship with our unions.”

PSE&G also plans to hire addition employers internally, he said, adding that in most cases contractors have been able to maintain a workforce that is “complementary” to what is needed.

Safety First

With the replacement program comes opportunities to make work practices more efficient while maintaining a focus on safety, Latka said. Part of the replacement of low-pressure facilities with high-pressure plastic and steel will allow for easier location of underground facilities. That will mean a reduction in water infiltration and related maintenance and repairs.

“There are other obvious things: There will be a decrease in cast-iron joint leak repairs and we’ll get more efficient leak surveys,” he said. “The retirement of low-pressure stations will mean less required regulator maintenance.”

When it comes to safety advances, Latka is quick to give credit to local union leaders for their commitment to ideas that have led to a steady decline in OSHA workplace injury rates and levels of severity.

“They really drive safety,” said Latka, who began his career as an underground electrical assistant in the union. “It’s been a journey, but we’ve managed to improve safety year-over-year for almost 20 years now.”

There will be no rate increase at the onset of the program, the company said. In 2017, the typical residential gas-heating customer who uses 1,010 therms annually is expected to see an increase of about 50 cents on the average monthly bill.

As said Ralph A. LaRossa, PSE&G president and COO, said at the time approval was given to the accelerated reprogram, “Accelerated replacement of our aging gas pipes ensures we can support a safe, clean and reliable gas system well into the future. Since 2009, our residential customers’ gas heating bills are down 47% because of the lower cost of natural gas supply. The timing is right to accelerate this work – while gas prices remain low.”

As New Jersey’s oldest investor-owned utility, PSE&G is a regulated gas and electric company. In 2000, the company split its national power generation assets into PSEG Power, with PSE&G continuing as the state’s biggest delivery company of regulated gas and electric.

PSE&G began going by its current name in 1948, when the Public Service Corporation, formed in 1903, rebranded. The company became entirely a utility business in 1908 when its transportation operations were bought by New Jersey Transit.

Methane Leak Innovation Shows ‘a Lot of Merit’

 In an innovative move, PSE&G became the first gas utility to provide extensive information to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) in an effort to advance methodologies to prioritize work based on the condition and location of gas mains with the use of methane emissions data provided by EDF.

EDF worked on a detection and measuring program with the help of Colorado State University and Google, using mapping and analytics. Part of that development involved spending six months surveying portions of PSE&G’s service territory targeted for replacement. During that time, a Google car, outfitted with methane sensors, took millions of individual readings over thousands of miles of roadway in Passaic, Essex and Hudson counties, based on locations provided by PSE&G on the type of pipes in those areas.

The effort showed progress but, Latka said, PSE&G used its own data in prioritizing its infrastructure program, calling the EDF-led effort “still in the developmental stages.” He said the work has “a lot of merit” and provides a “secondary factor” to consider.

Jonathan Peress, air policy director for Natural Gas at EDF, praised PSE&G for “the utility’s willingness and commitment to actively participate in our survey program enabled us to focus our work so that PSE&G is able to use methane emissions data for its gas infrastructure upgrades.”

By Michael Reed, Managing Editor

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