Public Service Electric and Gas has reached an agreement with the state Board of Public Utilities to replace aging piping in its natural gas delivery system — and customers will help foot the bill.

PSE&G spokeswoman Karen Johnson said the older gas mains and pipes that will be replaced "make up about 25 percent of our network, yet they account for about 65% of leaks, excluding damages that are done by third parties."

"We are talking about a lot of gas mains that go down the center of the road, as well as the service lines that then go from the gas main to a customer's home or business," she said. In total, the company hopes to replace about 875 miles of gas mains.

Other New jersey gas utilities have similar programs to replace their aging infrastructure, although not on as grand a scale as PSEG's. A spokeswoman for Elizabethtown Gas said last year, that replaced about 70 miles of aging cast iron and bare steel pipes.

It will also mean an average gas bill increase for PSE&G customers of $17 annually to pay for it. But, Johnson adds, "by accelerating the replacement of these aging gas pipes, we will support a safe, clean and reliable gas system well into the future."

But Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club criticized the use of ratepayer money for a purpose he said will move New Jersey farther away from renewable energy goals.

"Some lines need to be replaced because of safety issues, however, we should be moving away from natural gas to renewable energy," he said.

He also criticized the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities for what he claimed was just giving the utility company what it wants.

Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5.

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