Pilot program in Pennsylvania aims to extend natural gas service to homes

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The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has started a pilot program with three utilities to extend gas service to homes.

Contact: Dave Conti

Pennsylvania’s top utility regulator wants to see more natural gas companies extend service to neighborhoods that are missing out on cheap Marcellus shale gas.

“When I’ve gone to a lot of the drilling sites, you’re passing all these houses and these people don’t have access to the natural gas they’re sitting on,” Public Utility Commission Chair Gladys Brown told the Tribune-Review on Friday during a visit to Penn Hills.

The commission has started a pilot program with three utilities to extend gas service to homes. Separately, it is encouraging electric utilities to use a new surcharge available to pay for power line improvements.

Brown, who joined the five-member commission in 2013 and was named chair in May by Gov. Tom Wolf, is pushing for such infrastructure upgrades across several sectors regulated by her agency as she seeks to update the PUC’s operations.

Regulations covering Pennsylvania One Call, broadband Internet and taxi service are candidates for rewrites, Brown said.

“We need to look at our transportation legislation in general. The language is old,” she said. “We’re an administrative agency. We’re statutorily created. Some of these statutes need to be changed to bring them up to the modern needs of today.”

Brown, 52, of Harrisburg is familiar with those statutes because she helped write many of them while working “across the street” in the capitol as a lawyer for Senate Democrats for 23 years.

“Her area of expertise was those utility matters,” said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills. “Her breadth of experience in these matters is huge.”

A University of Pittsburgh graduate, Brown said her utility law knowledge was limited when she started working for the government. A series of moves to deregulate several utility industries followed and gave her a crash course in the sector and consumer protection.

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