Don't Let Pgw Install New Device

Posted: June 08, 1992

Hang on to your wallets! Philadelphia Gas Works is trying to grab a quick $70 million out of your pockets. PGW is arguing, before the Philadelphia Gas

Commission, that consumers need automatic meter reading devices (AMRs).

PGW claims AMRs will cut costs. According to the utility, a meter reader will no longer have to get inside a house to get a reading. Instead, a radio transmitter will sit on the gas meter. A van driving down the block will receive the transmission and record what the gas meter is reading. No more estimates, no more wasted costs; the great part about it, argues PGW, is the AMRs will pay for themselves and lower gas bills!

Will AMRs really work? Can PGW be trusted to buy the right equipment and install it correctly?

Consumers should be skeptical. After all, it was PGW that built a synthetic natural gas plant that blew up the first time they tried to use it. The thing never worked! It cost consumers over $14 million. Finally, PGW was forced to dismantle it.

PGW's man in charge, Joe Horan, says the AMR equipment works well. They did, after all, call six of 17 utilities that currently use the AMR device. In each case, they recorded a favorable reply.

But other uilities tell a different story. CEPA called all 17 - some liked the AMRs, some didn't, but Con Ed of New York, the only company currently installing the model that PGW wants to buy, complained bitterly about the system. The company making it, ENSCAN, was bought out by a bigger company, ITRON, which introduced a new model PGW has never tested; that is the model causing the difficulties in New York.

The decision to spend consumers' money on the device is in the hands of the Philadelphia Gas Commission. Can consumers trust the Gas Commission to reach the right decision? Unfortunately, the answer is no! This commission created a position of executive director, without public discussion, then hired one of its own, David Boonin, to the $87,000-a-year job without interviewing anyone else.

CEPA asked permission to intervene in the AMR proceeding; it was granted. The chairman granted me permission to question the witnesses, then reversed

himself when Horan refused to answer. In utter confusion, the chairman had to recess the hearing so he could be told what to do.

Fortunately for consumers, Community Legal Services, acting as public advocate, asked many of the questions that were necessary. But the performance of the Gas Commission and gas works raise very serious concerns.

What does PGW have to hide? Why didn't Horan bother to call all 17 of the companies using the AMRs? Why wouldn't PGW answer CEPA's questions?

The Gas Commission is totally incapable of making such an important decision. Only three of the five seats are filled. Of those three, only two participate. Of the two who are active, the chairman cannot make a simple decision without being told what to do. His actions at very least violate the intention, if not the letter, of the Sunshine Act. The very capable Deputy Controller Thurman Bullock is the only member of the Gas Commission consumers can have any faith in.

Until Mayor Rendell and City Council make their appointments to the Gas

Commission, consumers will suffer.

The current Gas Commission should not be allowed to make any decisions, let alone major ones involving $70 million of your money.

As for trusting PGW, you'd be better off buying a used car from a politician.

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