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Bill introduced to stop utilities from charging customers for natural gas lost to leaky pipes

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
The natural gas you use is not the only natural gas that ends up on your bill.

A Michigan state senator wants to pass a law prohibiting the state's natural gas utilities from charging customers for gas that leaks from pipes or gas that is otherwise lost because of variations in temperature, meter tampering, or during repairs to pipelines.

Senator Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) said together Consumers Energy and DTE Energy are allowed by regulators to charge ratepayers about $25 million a year for lost and unaccounted-for gas. The chief component of natural gas is methane, a potent greenhouse gas which contributes to climate change.

“I want to provide an incentive for these utilities to go out there and tighten up these leaks, protect our environment, and protect our ratepayers too,” Senator Irwin said.

He conceded it will cost more upfront to fix the leaks, and customers will ultimately pay for that.

“But, over time you make that up. Continuing to let our system leak every year and just pay for the leaks every year doesn’t make any sense to me,” Irwin said.

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
The difference in temperature can account for some of the difference in volume, leading to unaccounted for natural gas losses.

Responding in an email, Consumers spokesperson Katie Carey said in part, “Already we have retired 700 miles of vintage pipe, accounting for 24% of our vintage material targeted for replacement and modernization on the distribution system and the advanced measurement technology we have deployed to minimize variances.”

A statement from DTE indicated the utility has upgraded more than 1,000 miles of pipelines since 2010.

“All of our natural gas pipes will be upgraded by 2035, which will greatly reduce gas leaks on our system and therefore reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 500 thousand metric tons on an annual basis,” the statement said.

Irwin said his bill would ensure Michigan residents won’t have to pay for gas they never get because it’s lost to old or damaged infrastructure.

The Consumer's Energy Foundation is a corporate sponsor of Michigan Radio.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.
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