Nov 16, 2015

Philadelphia Gas Works: a future in natural gas

Admin
5 min
Since 1836, Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW) has been supplying residents an...

Since 1836, Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW) has been supplying residents and businesses throughout the City of Philadelphia with natural gas as a utility. But the service has not remained stagnant over those two centuries. The energy industry is evolving, and PGW is evolving with it to find new and exciting ways to serve its city.

Embarking on new initiatives

Within the past year, Philadelphia Gas Works has been seeking out new business opportunities—and finding several. One important prospect that the company has been working hard on is the expansion of its liquefied natural gas (LNG) assets.

“We have a very large LNG footprint—over 4 billion cubic feet of storage, in addition to a liquefaction plant and a vaporization plant,” says Craig White, CEO at PGW. “So we have the ability to liquefy and store a substantial amount of LNG, and then we can do a variety of things with that. We can vaporize it and put it into our distribution system, or distribute the liquid via our truck offloading racks. That’s a business that we hope to expand, and that’s got us very excited.”

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PGW is also looking at increasing involvement with compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles. The company already has one third party fueling station up and running in Philadelphia, and is hoping to expand this through an aggressive rate structure favorable to facilitating business.

”We believe that fleet use of natural gas for fleet vehicles is something that’s going to expand, as it has in other areas of the country,” says White. “We think it’s going to be here eventually, so that’s another area that we’re aggressively addressing.”

A third initiative that PGW has been pursuing intently as a strong opportunity in the future is combined heat and power (CHP). Installation of CHP systems has already grown substantially this year compared to the year before—White estimates around 30 active projects at the moment. “So it’s pretty exciting,” he says. “Combined heat and power is a nice addition for PGW.”

Improving existing infrastructure

Older cities throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions of the United States share a rich and expansive history. But they also share aging infrastructure in need of upkeep and renovation. In the City of Philadelphia, PGW is undertaking a major initiative to ramp up the rehabilitation of its own infrastructure, ensuring that it is able to provide better and more reliable service for years to come.

“We are accelerating our program, as have other utilities in Mid Atlantic and Northeast regions—areas of the country that have a preponderance of cast-iron bare steel and unprotected steel,” says White, explaining PGW’s most recent undertaking, which consists of excavating and removing existing outdated pipe to be replaced with modern updates. “Newer systems are primarily plastic and welded steel, and we’re moving in that direction with our replacement program. We’re on pace to double our replacement of the aging infrastructure within a year.”  

To accomplish this goal, PGW has increased its total yearly expenditure from $40 million up to $75 million—in other words, of the $100 million budget that PGW is allotted each year, 75 percent is currently being reserved toward replacing aging infrastructure. But according to White, as a matter of enhanced reliability and safety, it’s funding well spent.

Improving employee safety

That matter of safety is vital to Philadelphia Gas Works. “That’s what we’re here to do: we’re here to provide safe and reliable service,” says White. This is a driving force in the company’s current emphasis on infrastructure building and replacement.  

“Replacing infrastructure reduces risk,” White explains. “When we talk about safety, we’re not only talking about safety as it pertains to our customers: we’re certainly also talking about safety as it pertains to our employees. We have extensive training programs, and much of what we do here at PGW is just to stress that safety is the most important aspect of what we do every day. I want my employees to go home safe to their families each and every day.”

Improving consumer satisfaction

In addition to its daily focus on the well being of its employees, PGW also understands the importance of maintaining a strong relationship with its user base in both the residential and commercial spheres.

“One thing we believe is very important: people have to feel they’re getting value for this service,” says White. “When they feel they’re getting good value, they’re more inclined to pay their bill and expand the use of natural gas, especially in a commercial environment. So we see customer satisfaction as a very integral part of the success of the business as we move forward.”

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PGW has recently been able to boast stronger JD Power consumer satisfaction scores than ever before, and it attributes much of this to a strong focus on customer satisfaction initiatives, including a revamping of its website and a commitment to taking advantage of social media to connect with customers directly.

“It’s a good way to stay in touch with your customers and inform them,” says White. “We’re using these social media outlets to inform our customers of what we’re doing and when we’re doing it, along with some of the other just basic blocking and tackling—when we’re on their block, what we’re doing, when we’ll be starting a project and when we finish a project. We’re trying to communicate at a very granular level with our customers to improve customer satisfaction and improve the experience when you’re working with a utility.”

Looking forward

Moving into the future, Philadelphia Gas Works expects to immerse itself even further in the new initiatives that the company is pursuing today. “I fully expect that we will have made some decisions around LNG and be moving forward with some aspect of that project,” says White. “I see the CHP business continuing to grow with engineers, architects, building operators, all gaining experience with combined heat and power—and with CFOs recognizing the value of greater efficiency in energy systems, which will definitely hit their bottom line in a positive way.  We’re going to accomplish a lot of cast iron main replacements, we’re going to expand our markets, and we’re going to expand LNG. So I’m extremely excited that within this next year: you’re going to see significant changes starting to occur at PGW.”

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Jul 26, 2021

Ofwat allows retailers to raise prices from April

Ofwat
Utilities
water
prices
Dominic Ellis
3 min
Ofwat confirms levels of bad debt costs across the business retail market are exceeding 2% of non-household revenue

Retailers can recover a portion of excess bad debt by temporarily increasing prices from April 2022, according to an Ofwat statement.

The regulator confirmed its view that levels of bad debt costs across the business retail market are exceeding 2% of non-household revenue, thereby allowing "a temporary increase" in the maximum prices. Adjustments to price caps will apply for a minimum of two years to reduce the step changes in price that customers might experience.

Measures introduced since March 2020 to contain the spread of Covid-19 could lead to retailers facing higher levels of customer bad debt. Retailers’ abilities to respond to this are expected to be constrained by Ofwat strengthening protections for non-household customers during Covid-19 and the presence of price caps.  

In April last year, Ofwat committed to provide additional regulatory protection if bad debt costs across the market exceeded 2% of non-household revenue. 

Georgina Mills, Business Retail Market Director at Ofwat said: “These decisions aim to protect the interests of non-household customers in the short and longer term, including from the risk of systemic Retailer failure as the business retail market continues to feel the impacts of COVID-19. By implementing market-wide adjustments to price caps, we aim to minimise any additional costs for customers in the shorter term by promoting efficiency and supporting competition.”  

There are also three areas where Ofwat has not reached definitive conclusions and is seeking further evidence and views from stakeholders:   

  1. Pooling excess bad debt costs – Ofwat proposes that the recovery of excess bad debt costs is pooled across all non-household customers, via a uniform uplift to price caps. 
  2. Keeping open the option of not pursuing a true up – For example if outturn bad debt costs are not materially higher than the 2% threshold. 
  3. Undertaking the true up – If a 'true up' is required, Ofwat has set out how it expects this to work in practice. 

Further consultation on the proposed adjustments to REC price caps can be expected by December.

Anita Dougall, CEO and Founding Partner at Sagacity, said Ofwat’s decision comes hot on the heels of Ofgem’s price cap rise in April.

"While it’s great that regulators are helping the industry deal with bad debt in the wake of the pandemic, raising prices only treats the symptoms. Instead, water companies should head upstream, using customer data to identify and rectify the causes of bad debt, stop it at source and help prevent it from occurring in the first place," she said.

"While recouping costs is a must, water companies shouldn’t just rely on the regulator. Data can help companies segment customers, identify and assist customers that are struggling financially, avoiding penalising the entire customer in tackling the cause of the issue."

United Utilities picks up pipeline award

A race-against-time plumbing job to connect four huge water pipes into the large Haweswater Aqueduct in Cumbria saw United Utilities awarded Utility Project of the Year by Pipeline Industries Guild.

The Hallbank project, near Kendal, was completed within a tight eight-day deadline, in a storm and during the second COVID lockdown last November – and with three hours to spare. Principal construction manager John Dawson said the project helped boost the resilience of water supplies across the North West.

“I think what made us stand out was the scale, the use of future technology and the fact that we were really just one team, working collaboratively for a common goal," he said.

Camus Energy secures $16m funding

Camus Energy, which provides advanced grid management technology, has secured $16 million in a Series A round, led by Park West Asset Management and joined by Congruent VenturesWave Capital and other investors, including an investor-owned utility. Camus will leverage the operating capital to expand its grid management software platform to meet growing demand from utilities across North America.

As local utilities look to save money and increase their use of clean energy by tapping into low-cost and low-carbon local resources, Camus' grid management platform provides connectivity between the utility's operations team, its grid-connected equipment and customer devices.

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