ATLANTA — Atlanta Gas Light agreed Thursday to phase in higher customer charges totaling $275 million for the replacement of aging plastic pipe.
It would raise customers’ monthly bills by roughly 45 cents each of the next three years when it peaks at $1.45 in 2016 until 2025. It had originally proposed a $1.29 monthly boost starting in January for the whole replacement period.
The concession came during a meeting with the Public Service Commission in which a company executive held up pieces of the plastic tubing to illustrate how fragile it has become since installation in the 1960-70s.
The first versions of what the industry calls “vintage plastic” is susceptible to leaks caused by shifts in rocks or roots.
“Even very small impingements on the outside can cause large cracks on the inside,” said Jay Sutton, the company’s senior vice president for operations.
The vintage plastic gets leaks about four times per mile while modern plastic pipe leaks only once every two miles.
There have been no injuries or property damage associated with the leaks because the company uses plastic pipes only for low-pressure lines, saving the more expensive steel pipes for its high-pressure needs.
Commissioner Stan Wise asked the commission staff to bring the issue up. He was on the five-member commission in the 1990s when it became a national leader in safety by accelerating replacement of what was then aging, corroded steel pipes with plastic.
He said he didn’t need to be convinced of the need for swapping out the vintage plastic.
“Clearly, I’ve seen a boatload of information about this plastic from prior to 1974,” he said.
The commission is set to vote Aug. 6 on whether to allow Atlanta Gas Light to impose the charge.
Replacement charges are generally the same for all customers regardless of how much gas they use because the commission figures everyone benefits equally from improved safety in the pipe network.