With the arrival of spring construction, Peoples Gas continues to make large-scale improvements to the safety and reliability of Chicago’s natural gas delivery system.
The upgrades are the focus of the company’s System Modernization Program (SMP), which is bringing safety improvements to thousands of miles of natural gas pipes in every Chicago neighborhood. Many of the iron pipes being replaced were installed in the 1800s.
“SMP is a comprehensive effort to safeguard an aging natural gas delivery system,” said Andy Hesselbach, senior vice president — gas operations for Peoples Gas, in a March 17 company statement. “Each construction season brings us closer to our goal of having a safer, more resilient system.”
The importance of SMP was magnified this winter, when sub-freezing temperatures and extremely high demand for natural gas caused isolated service interruptions in areas that have not yet received upgrades. More recently, a valve in an aging section of the delivery system activated and caused a service outage.
“The recent service interruptions on the older sections of our system are exactly why we’re taking a systemwide approach to improvements. A Band-Aid approach simply won’t work,” Hesselbach said.
An extensive independent engineering study found that more than 80 percent of the iron pipes in the Peoples Gas delivery system have an average remaining life of less than 15 years. The study concluded that SMP will significantly reduce risks in Chicago’s natural gas delivery network.
The modern plastic gas mains being installed as part of SMP are significantly less prone to leaks than the iron gas pipes being replaced. Other improvements include the installation of modern safety valves on each customer’s service line and relocating meters from indoors to outdoors, so first responders can quickly and safely turn off natural gas during emergencies.
Peoples Gas launched SMP in response to a call to action from the Obama administration following a natural gas explosion in San Bruno, California, that killed eight people and injured 58, and destroyed 38 homes. Since then, gas pipeline explosions in Pennsylvania, Texas, New York, Massachusetts and, most recently, Maryland have resulted in the loss of dozens of lives and significant property damage.
The project is approximately one-third complete. To date, Peoples Gas has converted more than 185,000 customers in 96,000 buildings to a modernized natural gas delivery system. The company has installed more than 1,142 miles of new natural gas main.
This year, SMP projects will take place in 15 neighborhoods, with 60 smaller projects scattered throughout the city. New neighborhoods receiving work in 2021 include Budlong Woods, Old Irving Park, Jeffery Manor and Garfield Ridge. Projects are set to wrap up in Princeton Park and Kenwood.
More Than Just a Construction Project
In addition to improving the safety and reliability of Chicago’s natural gas network, SMP is a significant engine for the local economy, supporting:
- 1,200 direct jobs during the peak construction season.
- More than $50 million in annual spending with businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans.
- A training partnership with Utility Workers Local 18007 and City Colleges of Chicago that has led to the hiring of 460 veterans.
SMP also provides environmental benefits by reducing the emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Through a WEC Energy Group corporatewide pledge to reduce methane emissions by at least 30 percent by 2030, SMP will reduce emissions equivalent to taking 34,000 cars off the road.
Peoples Gas continues to work closely with numerous stakeholders, including the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), Illinois Attorney General, Citizen’s Utility Board and City of Chicago to ensure appropriate oversight of the many complex aspects of the program, including cost, coordination, engineering and efficiency.
The program is subject to annual cost reviews by the ICC, monthly and quarterly metrics reporting, outside auditor reviews, and legislative caps on customer rate impacts.
To learn more about SMP or planned neighborhood work, visit peoplesgasdelivery.com/systemupgrades. Peoples Gas, a subsidiary of WEC Energy Group, is a regulated natural gas delivery company that serves more than 878,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in the city of Chicago. You can find more information about natural gas safety, energy efficiency and other energy-related topics at peoplesgasdelivery.com.