Second day of PGW hearings include willing partners, environmental opponents

 Philadelphia Gas Works (Nathaniel Hamilton/for NewsWorks)

Philadelphia Gas Works (Nathaniel Hamilton/for NewsWorks)

The second day of hearings before Philadelphia City Council on the city’s energy future included talk of public-private partnerships and environmental stewardship. Meanwhile, Mayor Michael Nutter took his case for selling PGW to a more sympathetic audience.

Representing Liberty Energy Trust, Charlie Ryan said the company is ready to partner with the city to improve the services and operation of Philadelphia Gas Works.

“Being able to make the investments in a way where you increase the amount of demand for gas, increase the efficiency, we felt it could be a virtuous circle with more investment, more jobs,” Ryan said. “And it wasn’t about cutting costs or cutting jobs.”

One of the keys in the proposals to improve PGW is to increase use of gas from the Marcellus Shale. But that’s upsetting environmentalists, including Sam Bernhardt of Food and Water Watch.

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“Conjuring additional demand for shale gas would commit us to the risky proliferation of fracking elsewhere in Pennsylvania, including our watershed, the Delaware River,” Bernhardt said.

PGW already gets about 35 percent of its supply from the Marcellus Shale, with the remainder coming from the Gulf Coast. 

Council members continue their opposition to any sale of PGW, a move that Mayor Nutter advocates.

At a separate hearing convened by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Nutter declared there is no better deal for Philadelphia than the offer made by Connecticut-based UIL Holdings Corp. to buy PGW for $1.86 billion. 

“There are no losers here in this proposal and, yes, it can be made even better,” he said. “But let us move forward.”

The PUC has had regulatory oversight over PGW since 2000, and the commissioners made it clear they want the utility in private hands as much as Nutter does.

Commissioner Jim Cawley says PGW has improved in the last decade, but it’s time for a change:

“We’re now on the verge of that change, and I, for one, don’t want to go back to leaving it in the hands of people that have to be elected,” he said.

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