The DC PSC’s order to place Washington Gas’s $4.5-billion pipeline-replacement program temporarily on pause follows its ruling to protect consumers from the costs of pursuing unproven ‘renewable’ natural gas.
WASHINGTON, DC – The DC Public Service Commission (PSC) voted on Tuesday to put on hold a Washington Gas request for a $57 million extension of its costly pipeline replacement program, Project Pipes Phase 2. Instead, the PSC has requested more information from Washington Gas to justify its request for the extension, citing concerns about the program’s overall cost and effectiveness. Climate advocacy groups viewed the PSC decision as a step away from unnecessary spending on harmful fossil fuel infrastructure, but continued to call for the PSC to cancel the project completely.
“Tuesday’s order to hold off on a blanket approval for continuing the dysfunctional Phase 2 of Project Pipes marks a hopeful moment for the District as we work to more fully align all branches of government with the commitment to fight climate change and protect D.C. residents from the harms of the fossil fuel industry,” said Naomi Cohen-Shields, D.C. Campaign Manager for the CCAN Action Fund. “It is encouraging to see the PSC take a more critical lens to Washington Gas’s greenwashed activities. We hope this is the first nail in the coffin for all of Project Pipes, as we instead turn our efforts towards a clean, safe and affordable energy system.”
In November, Washington Gas requested $57 million to extend the operations of its accelerated fossil fuel pipeline spending program while the PSC determines whether to approve the much larger Phase 3 of the project. Project Pipes Phase 2 is set to end on December 31, 2023. This week’s decision will therefore necessitate a pause in the gas utility’s fossil fuel pipeline spending program.
Separately, on Friday, December 15, the DC PSC cut Washington Gas’s record-breaking rate hike request in half, rejecting a request by the gas utility to charge customers for its pursuit of so-called ‘renewable’ natural gas. This follows the recent actions of the Maryland PSC to substantially reduce the utility’s rate increase request to more than 500,000 Maryland gas customers, noting the growing need to align utility spending with that state’s climate goals.
“For years, D.C. residents have been forced to pay millions of dollars for wasteful Washington Gas spending on fossil fuel pipelines, despite D.C.’s commitment to fully transition off fossil fuels over the next two decades,” said Mark Rodeffer, co-chair of Beyond Gas DC and a leader of the Sierra Club DC Chapter. “A temporary spending pause isn’t good enough. It’s time for DC’s utility regulators to stop standing in the way of the transition off fossil fuels. The Commission must shut down Project Pipes and begin planning now to transition D.C. buildings off fossil fuels.”
Across the U.S., utility regulators have begun to rein in gas spending in order to protect consumers from the increasingly high costs of maintaining aging gas pipelines at a time when residents continue to transition toward highly efficient, clean alternatives such as heat pumps. In Massachusetts, the Department of Public Utilities ruled that utility shareholders, not gas customers, must pay for any infrastructure projects associated with alternative fuel plans given the risky and unfeasible nature of those plans. The Illinois Commerce Commission went further, putting a controversial $11-billion pipeline-replacement program on pause and substantially reducing rate increase requests from all three major gas utilities.
Tuesday’s order in D.C. similarly indicates that the PSC is giving closer scrutiny to Washington Gas’s costly infrastructure projects. Climate groups are encouraging D.C. residents to make their voices heard at the PSC by submitting comments in opposition to the continuation of Project Pipes.
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The Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) Action Fund is dedicated to driving change in public policies at the local, state and national level to address the climate crisis. Through voter education, lobbying, and participation in the electoral process, we seek to advance our country’s leadership in the global movement towards clean energy solutions — focusing our efforts primarily in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC. We know that a vibrant democracy is central to our success so we work to defend democratic integrity wherever we can.
Beyond Gas DC is a strong and growing coalition of climate, faith, and community groups working to ensure that clean and affordable energy is available to all DC residents. We advocate for building electrification to lower household utility bills, improve indoor air quality and public health, and cut climate pollution. Our coalition is led by the Sierra Club, Washington Interfaith Network (WIN), Interfaith Power & Light (DC.MD.NoVA), and many more organizations, and has active members across all eight wards of D.C.