New Data: Washington Gas Is Reducing Normal Maintenance of Leaking DC Pipes While Still Spending More on Its Controversial and Expensive PROJECT PIPES Plan
Report Commissioned by the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment Shows a Disturbing Trend that Seems to Benefit Washington Gas Financially While Harming the Climate and Consumers’ Pocketbooks
WASHINGTON, D.C.: New data shows Canadian-owned Washington Gas (WGL) is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a controversial accelerated pipeline replacement project – deemed unnecessary and wasteful by critics – while the company simultaneously spends less money on replacing actively leaking pipelines that harm the climate and endanger the health and safety of D.C. residents.
Data released last week by the prestigious think tank Synapse and commissioned by the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) paints a disturbing picture. It shows startling evidence that WGL is actually spending far more money per mile of pipeline replacement than historic levels while replacing fewer miles of pipe per year. Meanwhile, according to the Synapse data, “normal” pipeline replacement – based on actual leaking pipes and calls from customers – is being reduced in favor of a controversial company-preferred replacement plan.
That WGL plan, called PROJECTpipes, would cost ratepayers at least $4.5 billion and is strongly opposed by D.C. environmental and justice groups, the District government, and the statutory consumer advocate The Office of People’s Counsel. The plan, which began in 2014 and would continue for decades if allowed by the D.C. Public Service Commission (PSC), would replace hundreds of miles of underground gas pipes in D.C. without confirming the pipes are actually leaking beforehand. Such replacements, critics argue, benefit the company’s bottom line without measurably protecting customers or the environment. The company began the project with its “PIPES 1” phase from 2014-2018 and its “PIPES 2” phase from 2018 to the present.
Using data from the Synapse report, DOEE submitted a letter to the D.C. Public Service Commission on January 22 saying, among other things, that the WGL project “is not well designed and managed” and “is expensive and may not be cost-effective relative to alternatives.” A Commission-ordered audit of Washington Gas’ replacement activities, filed in December of 2023, found similar stark management and overspending issues–the same issues identified nearly 5 years ago in a similar audit of the PIPES 1 program in April 2019.
The DOEE’s letter goes on to say, “The average annual spend per mile more than doubled from pre-PIPES to PIPES 1 and increased by nearly 70 percent from PIPES 1 to PIPES 2. While there has been some economy-wide inflation over this period, spending per mile and per service has risen substantially even in inflation-adjusted terms.” Synapse, on behalf of DOEE, filed a report in May of last year showing that targeted repairs of known leaking pipes can achieve health, safety, and climate benefits at a fraction of the cost of Washington Gas’s PIPES project.
Naomi Cohen-Shields, campaign manager for the CCAN Action Fund issued this statement in response to the newly public WGL data:
“Washington’s Gas’s self-serving and dangerous Project Pipes project should be canceled immediately by the D.C. Public Service Commission. New data submitted to the PSC now confirms: Washington Gas is padding its bottom line while harming public health and the climate. Instead, we need Washington Gas to actually respond to customer calls, repair the dangerous leaks that have been confirmed, and simultaneously begin preparing for a world without gas use per the city’s climate policies that move us to carbon-free energy in the coming decades.”
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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.