- Columbia Gas has developed a plan to replace pipelines and restore service in three northern Massachusetts towns, following a series of explosions that killed one person and set 70 homes on fire last month, the result of an over-pressurized line.
- The explosions took place in the towns of Lawrence, Andover and North Andover, where Columbia Gas says it will dispatch 3,000 workers to replace about 45 miles of pipeline. Almost 9,000 homes are without natural gas until the system can be repaired, Inside Climate News reports.
- The utility is targeting mid-November to have the work done, but residents have another choice besides waiting for repairs. Columbia Gas is offering to pay all "reasonable" costs associated with customers who want to switch their heating systems from natural gas to another option, potentially creating an opportunity to encourage cleaner energy use.
Columbia Gas customers in the affected areas could understandably be skittish about turning their gas services back on, just weeks after a series of explosions turned neighborhoods into apocalyptic-type scenes. Or they may just be impatient, facing possible weeks without gas for heating or cooking.
Either way, Columbia Gas has said it will reimburse residential customers for "reasonable costs of permanently switching to an alternative fuel source" for appliances or systems that were fueled by gas before the explosions. That could mean anything from fuel oil to emissions-free heat pumps.
Environmental advocates are hoping to encourage a shift to electric heating. The state's top law enforcement officer is also pushing for a move to cleaner options. The utility should design its alternative fuel plan to "support and encourage customers to switch to energy efficient and clean technologies," Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey told Columbia Gas in a letter.
Possible alternatives could include heat pumps, propane and fuel oil.
Healey's letter calls for Columbia Gas to directly pay for low-income customer home heating conversions, as opposed to forcing them to pay up front and wait for reimbursement. She also said the utility should "educate every customer on the availability and details of heat pump technologies," and "cover any cost for these technologies which exceed the costs for a one-for-one replacement."
Columbia Gas said it has identified eight work zones, made up of 63 projects, running in parallel across the three communities. Three main areas of work include installing new gas mains, sending teams into homes and businesses to assess gas appliances and make repairs, and then doing a final assessment before turning the gas back on.