Alerted of a proposed rate hike by our gas utility, I spoke at a public hearing organized by Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate. My June 2nd, 2020 testimony is below.

Hello, My name is Meenal Raval. I am self employed. My business, Philly Electric Wheels, is a PGW customer. Today, I represent myself. And no, I am not a PGW customer at home, which I’ll explain soon. 

I am speaking about the rate hike requested by PGW, our gas utility. Firstly, I’d like to thank you for considering and scheduling this investigation.

Next, I’d like to paraphrase my understanding of PGW’s request. That PGW is seeking an additional $70 million in revenue for the purpose of updating aging infrastructure and replacing gas lines. PGW already has $41 million for this, I think they call it the DSIC surcharge, but this doesn’t seem to be adequate because they aren’t selling as much gas as they used to. Why? It seems because many of their residential customers are using less gas.

What PGW omits to account for is the climate crisis. This is the elephant in the room that PGW has ignored for far too long. It is due to the climate crisis that customers are investing in retrofitting their homes and using less gas. It is due to the climate crisis that the weather has been warmer, and thus, customers have been using less gas.

Climate-concerned customers like me have invested in rooftop solar, replaced all gas appliances with electric appliances and finally, have called to have their gas meter removed. As people like me convince others, the customer base left still using PGW’s product will be low income folks. My 81 year old mother is one of these people, an immigrant living on social security, and clutching her coupons when she visits the grocery store. These are NOT the ones to be left shouldering the burden of keeping this utility limping along. A utility that was approved a 6.3% increase in 2017, and now seek an 11.2% increase to the fixed monthly rates!

We need to accept that gas is a dying industry. One that affects public health during extraction (also known as fracking), during transportation (methane leaks along the way) and during combustion (toxic air inside a house).

PGW’s primary business model for over 100 years has been to sell “natural gas”. And now, in light of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the 2018 report by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and per estimates by our Office of Sustainability that PGW’s principal product accounts for 22% of our City’s greenhouse gas emissions, it is time for a new business model for the utility, one that can keep all Philadelphians warm, and retain the current workforce without selling and/or burning gas.

Local academics like Professor Mark Allan Hughes of the Kleinman Center tell us that the “electrify everything” idea is currently the most important policy conversation taking place in the world. Of course, we must pursue electrification in lockstep with decarbonizing our electric supply.

We need to accept that electric is where it’s at. And learn from other cities and utilities that are revising their business model. I mention Columbia Gas in Massachusetts, who acknowledge the problems with gas, offers an electrification service to their residential customers. I’ll also mention that the $41 million currently budgeted for distribution line maintenance could be used differently. I’ll also mention that Berkely has led cities across the nation to ensure that new construction is electric only, and does not have gas hookups.

I have produced a radio episode about transforming PGW, and documented a public hearing organized by Philadelphia City Council on the same. I can share links to both when I submit this testimony in writing. Raising the fixed monthly costs is not the answer.

Thank you for considering my testimony. You’ll find references below.

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