The February 17 cover story in the Sun-Times of the major gas exchange program in Chicago failed to acknowledge the urgency of the plan and its support from regulators and an independent technical expert.
What was missing from the story was the clear fact that the critical condition of the existing Chicago gas pipeline system was a safety emergency. The Illinois Commerce Commission ordered an independent technical study of the system replacement plan in 2020, and one of its key conclusions was alarming: More than 80% of the gas pipelines in the city of Chicago are still in less than 15 years of reliable use. The study went so far as to suggest speeding up the schedule to complete the project 10 years earlier than originally proposed.
Any worker who has done a utility exchange in the city of Chicago will attest that you never know what to find beneath the city streets. Replacement teams are still removing wooden gas pipes that were installed before Abraham Lincoln became president. There are around 30 underground utilities in the city of Chicago. Navigating a replacement program in close proximity to other lines requires multiple levels of municipal oversight and significantly slows the approval process.
Another complication was the request by previous administrations to replace gas pipelines on the same schedule and map as other urban infrastructures in order to minimize traffic disruption. When one utility company is forced to do the work of other utilities or additional work on the city’s infrastructure, it is nearly impossible to maximize efficiency in cost or operation.
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Ultimately, however, the plan’s opponents focused on the cost, without providing context such as the fact that the average Chicago gas customer bill is lower today than it was in 2013. The Illinois Commerce Commission regulates this and other substitute utility plans in great detail and oversees everything the throughput costs up to the operational mandates.
This is a huge undertaking. Peoples Gas and its contractors are replacing a 19th century system with a modern, secure system that has already proven effective in completed areas such as Rogers Park. If we are to sacrifice safety improvements like residential barrier systems, we risk repeating the series of deadly gas explosions that struck Boston in 2018. If we loosen regulation or myopically shift our infrastructure towards electrification, we invite a fate like the one we watched in Texas. If we are willing to cut costs by making sacrifices, we will be forced to weigh those savings against the life we risk in the process.
Chicago’s natural gas network should have been replaced decades ago, but our safety and economic vigor as a city depends on staying on course and completing the exchange without compromising safety or oversight. Groups like PIRG may not want to tell the full story, but Chicagoans need to hear it.
James M. Sweeney, President and CEO
International Union of Production Engineers on site 150
Wolf hunting a necessity
You need to get your facts straight before berating the hunters who are trying to manage an overpopulated species. Have you ever seen a young deer knocked down by wolves? Trust me, it’s far less pretty.
There is a need to decrease the number of wolves in Wisconsin and decrease the number of wolves Wisconsin hunters made in two days will show you the problem we have here. You could have made twice that amount and we would still have too many.
Come face to face with a pack outside of your subway apartment and let’s talk.
Richard Weiss. Wisconsin