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The 191st General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Section 145: Plan for replacement or improvement of aging or leaking natural gas infrastructure

Section 145. (a) For the purposes of this section, the following words shall, unless the context clearly requires otherwise, have the following meanings:—

''Customer'', a retail natural gas customer.

''Eligible infrastructure replacement'', a replacement or an improvement of existing infrastructure of a gas company that: (i) is made on or after January 1, 2015; (ii) is designed to improve public safety or infrastructure reliability; (iii) does not increase the revenue of a gas company by connecting an improvement for a principal purpose of serving new customers; (iv) reduces, or has the potential to reduce, lost and unaccounted for natural gas through a reduction in natural gas system leaks; and (v) is not included in the current rate base of the gas company as determined in the gas company's most recent rate proceeding.

''Plan'', a targeted infrastructure replacement program construction plan that a gas company files pursuant to subsection (b).

''Project'', an eligible infrastructure replacement project proposed by a gas company in a plan filed under this section.

(b) A gas company may file with the department a plan to address aging or leaking natural gas infrastructure within the commonwealth in the interest of public safety and reducing lost and unaccounted for natural gas through a reduction in natural gas system leaks.

(c) Any plan filed with the department shall include, but not be limited to: (i) eligible infrastructure replacement of mains, services, meter sets and other ancillary facilities composed of non-cathodically protected steel, cast iron and wrought iron, prioritized to implement the federal gas distribution pipeline integrity management plan annually submitted to the department and consistent with subpart P of 49 C.F.R. part 192; (ii) an anticipated timeline for the completion of each project; (iii) the estimated cost of each project; (iv) rate change requests; (v) a description of customer costs and benefits under the plan; and (vi) any other information the department considers necessary to evaluate the plan.

Upon filing an initial plan under this section, a gas company shall include a timeline for removing all leak-prone infrastructure on an accelerated basis specifying an annual replacement pace and program end date with a target end date of either (i) not more than 20 years, or (ii) a reasonable target end date considering the allowable recovery cap established pursuant to subsection (f). The department shall not approve a timeline as part of a plan unless the allowable recovery cap established pursuant to subsection (f) provides the gas company with a reasonable opportunity to recover the costs associated with removing all leak-prone infrastructure on the accelerated basis set forth under the timeline utilizing the cost recovery mechanism established pursuant to this section. After filing the initial plan, a gas company shall, at 5–year intervals, provide the department with a summary of its replacement progress to date, a summary of work to be completed during the next 5 years and any similar information the department may require. The department may require a gas company to file an updated long-term timeline as part of a plan if it alters the cap established pursuant to subsection (f).

(d) If a gas company files a plan on or before October 31 for the subsequent construction year, the department shall review the plan within 6 months. The plan shall be effective as of the date of filing, pending department review. The department may modify a plan prior to approval at the request of a gas company or make other modifications to a plan as a condition of approval. The department shall consider the costs and benefits of the plan including, but not limited to, impacts on ratepayers, reductions of lost and unaccounted for natural gas through a reduction in natural gas system leaks and improvements to public safety. The department shall give priority to plans narrowly tailored to addressing leak-prone infrastructure most immediately in need of replacement.

(e) If a plan is in compliance with this section and the department determines the plan to reasonably accelerate eligible infrastructure replacement and provide benefits, the department shall issue preliminary acceptance of the plan in whole or in part. A gas company shall then be permitted to begin recovery of the estimated costs of projects included in the plan beginning on May 1 of the year following the initial filing and collect any revenue requirement, including depreciation, property taxes and return associated with the plan.

(f) On or before May 1 of each year, a gas company shall file final project documentation for projects completed in the prior year to demonstrate substantial compliance with the plan approved pursuant to subsection (e) and that project costs were reasonably and prudently incurred. The department shall investigate project costs within 6 months of submission and shall approve and reconcile the authorized rate factor, if necessary, upon a determination that the costs were reasonable and prudent. Annual changes in the revenue requirement eligible for recovery shall not exceed (i) 1.5 per cent of the gas company's most recent calendar year total firm revenues, including gas revenues attributable to sales and transportation customers, or (ii) an amount determined by the department that is greater than 1.5 per cent of the gas company's most recent calendar year total firm revenues, including gas revenues attributable to sales and transportation customers. Any revenue requirement approved by the department in excess of such cap may be deferred for recovery in the following year.

(g) All rate change requests made to the department pursuant to an approved plan, shall be filed annually on a fully reconciling basis, subject to final determination by the department pursuant to subsection (f). The rate change included in a plan pursuant to section (c), reviewed pursuant to subsection (d) and taking effect each May 1 pursuant to subsection (e) shall be subject to investigation by the department pursuant to subsection (f) to determine whether the gas company has over collected or under collected its requested rate adjustment with such over collection or under collection reconciled annually. If the department determines that any of the costs were not reasonably or prudently incurred, the department shall disallow the costs and direct the gas company to refund the full value of the costs charged to customers with the appropriate carrying charges on the over-collected amounts. If the department determines that any of the costs were not in compliance with the approved plan, the department shall disallow the costs from the cost recovery mechanism established under this section and shall direct the gas company to refund the full value of the costs charged to customers with the appropriate carrying charges on the over collected amounts.

(h) The department may promulgate rules and regulations under this section. The department may discontinue the replacement program and require a gas company to refund any costs charged to customers due to failure to substantially comply with a plan or failure to reasonably and prudently manage project costs.