BGE’s STRIDE toward safer infrastructure nets savings for customers
By Christine Collins
Fiscal efficiency and innovation are kind of like chocolate and chili powder; they work together, but they’re not the first combination that comes to mind. BGE’s STRIDE program is solid evidence that they can be key ingredients in a recipe for better energy infrastructure. STRIDE is the company’s framework for upgrading its gas delivery infrastructure at a lower overall cost. That means less cost over time to Maryland residents and businesses for service, and an updated, safer system—which is critical for the oldest gas utility in the United States.
“We have the first gas distribution system built,” explained BGE President & Chief Operating Officer Stephen Woerner. “Of course, there have been many replacements over the years, but our STRIDE program will actually eliminate the oldest assets in our system over a 30-year period of time.”
Utility companies in Maryland borrow money from investors to pay for infrastructure upgrades. They file a request with the Public Service Commission after they get that funding to establish how they’ll recover the investment. Since time passes between the investment and the recovery, there’s a carrying cost that accrues, like interest. Typically, that cost is at least partly passed on to the customer through delivery fees.
But the STRIDE program provides the PSC with a framework to start recovering the capital investment and the carrying cost much sooner, cutting back on the interest debt. Customers would have paid 30 percent more in a traditional infrastructure replacement model than they will with STRIDE.
“What these upgrades in technology are doing is supporting the innovation that our customers want to have,” Woerner said. “Uses for gas have increased over the years. Gas appliances available to customers have improved and there’s more demand for people to be able to have safe, reliable gas service.
“On the electric side, customers are buying electric vehicles and doing more automation and energy efficiency in their home. They’re smarter consumers and rely on us for smarter infrastructure.”
There’s another bonus to BGE’s STRIDE program: It supports jobs. Since the initial investments in 2014, Woerner said, more than 850 contractors and company staff have worked on the gas replacement side. About 600 are on the job currently. Woerner said BGE has retired 61 miles of the most obsolete cast iron and bare steel pipe, and replaced about 7,000 bare steel or copper service lines. Everything has been upgraded to a highly durable and dense polyethylene material that has a longer lifespan than the metal. In most cases, it can be threaded inside the existing metal lines, eliminating the need to dig or drill in people’s yards and homes. There’s a service interruption for a few minutes, rather than hours or days, and it’s done by appointment, neighborhood by neighborhood.
BGE is innovating on the customer relations side, too, making it easier to report outages and track problems.
“Just like on your mobile phone where you can see how many minutes you’ve talked today, with our advanced meters, we’re able to talk to you on a given month or a given day about what your usage is. Now you can be a better energy manager,” Woerner said.
The STRIDE program is expected to take 30 years to implement fully. By then, even the first replaced parts will have used only a fraction of their life expectancy.
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