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State PSC orders National Grid to speed up repairs of leak-prone natural gas pipelines

The state Public Service Commission has ordered National Grid to speed up repairs on leak-prone natural gas pipelines on Long Island in a move that will cost average customers $1.37 a month.

The PSC on Thursday said it ordered the move to "improve the overall safety and reliability" of the gas distribution system, while reducing unintended gas emissions.

National Grid's Long Island division, KeySpan Energy Delivery Long Island, already had a program to replace 50 miles of leak-prone pipes a year. The new plan will accelerate the replacement to 77.5 miles next year, and 95 in 2016.

The additional cost to speed up the work is $414 million, the PSC said. National Grid has about 3,900 miles of leak-prone pipe on Long Island, the agency said. The program replaces older cast-iron pipe with new, more durable plastic-based pipe.

The new work will be funded by a 1.2 percent surcharge on customer bills, which the PSC said amounts to the $1.37 for the average customer. The surcharge will begin in April and continue through the end of 2016.

National Grid spokeswoman Wendy Ladd said the PSC ruling "allows us to accelerate our existing pipe replacement program and to continue to expand our gas distribution system with modest bill impacts to our customers."

National Grid always has exceeded state requirements for replacing leaky pipes, replacing some 60 miles last year, Ladd said. Previously, the work was done at National Grid's expense without a specific bill surcharge, she said.

"This major infrastructure improvement project will bring environmental benefits, as well as economic benefits in the form of energy cost savings, job creation and increased local tax revenues," PSC chairwoman Audrey Zibelman said in a statement.

Zibelman noted the work includes "a significant investment to harden critical infrastructure" to help prevent gas outages due major storms. The commission also detailed accounting mechanisms that would help National Grid defray additional costs of the repairs, which the commission will ensure get done through unspecified performance incentives.

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