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Koehler: Natural gas pipelines to be modernized

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Natural gas pipelines throughout Illinois will be modernized and thus more safe under legislation approved by the Illinois Senate and sent to the governor for signature.

The Natural Gas Consumer, Safety and Reliability Act, sponsored by State Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, will also create about 1,000 new jobs statewide, including 150 new jobs in central Illinois as Ameren Illinois invests $330 million over the next 10 years to improve its natural gas delivery system, the Peoria-based utility said.

"This plan will allow the natural gas companies – with ICC approval – to create more than 1,000 jobs and repair Illinois' natural gas pipes, preventing potentially deadly accidents and protecting the environment," Koehler said.

Added Richard Mark. CEO of Ameren Illinois, "This plan enhances our ability to meet the current and future needs of our gas customers while creating 150 good-paying jobs and maintaining strong consumer protections. It is a win for Illinois customers, businesses and labor, especially here in central and southern Illinois."

The legislation allows Illinois' major natural gas companies to petition the Illinois Commerce Commission for a "rider," or temporary small surcharge, to pay for infrastructure upgrades that would be cost prohibitive under current rates. The money from this surcharge could only be used to replace dangerously old gas pipelines and make other specific upgrades to modernize Illinois' natural gas system. There is also no guarantee that the ICC will approve the proposal.

Under the plan, a typical Ameren Illinois residential natural gas customer using 785 therms annually would pay about a penny a day more for gas delivery services over the 10-year period, Ameren Illinois said.

Ameren Illinois maintains approximately 1,250 miles of natural gas transmission lines and nearly 17,000 miles of delivery lines that feed service to more than 806,000 Illinois customers within a 43,700 square-mile territory in central and southern Illinois.

The legislation also requires Ameren Illinois to file an annual plan with the ICC and report on progress in achieving performance improvements such as decreasing the time to respond to gas emergency calls and preventing damages caused by utility or contractor error.

The legislation brings Illinois in alignment with 28 other states, including Indiana, Iowa and Missouri, that have already recognized the need for a timely cost recovery mechanism as a way to support and encourage capital investment in aging energy infrastructure.

"The Natural Gas Consumer, Safety & Reliability Act has broad support from Illinois business and labor leaders who see the potential of this plan to put Illinois on a path towards progress," Mark said. "I urge Governor Quinn to show he is serious about moving the Illinois economy forward by signing this bill."

Koehler noted many of Illinois' nearly 2,000 miles of cast and wrought iron gas mains are more than 60 years old. The federal government has identified these aging gas lines as a major public safety risk and issued a call to action to replace them as soon as possible, he said.

According to the US Department of Transportation, Illinois had 27 gas incidents caused by old, substandard gas lines between 2002 and 2011. Though the state had no fatalities, there were several injuries and more than $7 million in property damage during this time period – numbers that will only get worse if the substandard gas lines aren't replaced soon.

Koehler's plan has passed both chambers of the General Assembly with a veto-proof majority – an important detail because it faces an uncertain fate in the governor's office.