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Transitioning Philly’s
Gas Utility PGW

For most people who don’t have electric appliances like heat pumps and electric stoves, gas is the fuel source that heats homes in the winter, warms water, fuels stoves, and dries clothes. In Philadelphia, that gas comes from Philadelphia Gas Works. 


PGW a publicly-owned company: it is the largest gas utility in the country that is owned by the city itself. That means that unlike private companies like our region’s electric utility PECO, PGW’s executive director doesn’t answer to a board of directors elected by shareholders. Instead, its leadership answers to the Gas Commission, which is made up of two members from City Council, two members appointed by the mayor, and the city controller. The Gas Commissioners make decisions about PGW’s budget, and they answer to the mayor and City Council, who answer to constituents. That means Philadelphians own PGW.

But PGW needs to change. Gas is a fossil fuel just like coal and oil, and burning fossil fuels is causing climate change. Not only is gas bad for the planet, it’s bad for us: breathing gas causes and exacerbates asthma and other health conditions, especially among kids; it causes home explosions, which are likely to increase as our gas systems age; and drilling for gas makes communities near wells and processing plants sick, poisoning the water and polluting the air. Fracking (drilling) for gas is especially risky near Pennsylvania farms growing our food.

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Here’s the good news: there are better alternatives to gas for everything in our homes that we use gas for.

And the city has committed to ending the use of fossil fuels alongside many other cities and countries where folks know we cannot keep using energy that produces greenhouse gas emissions. Just like when Philadelphians moved from using wood to coal, and coal to gas, it's time now to make a big change. But just like during those important changes, there were people who didn’t want to - even though it was what was needed for everyone to be healthier and safer - because those people made money from the obsolete product, and stopping its use would affect their profits.

 

City leaders have realized we need to make a plan to transition our municipally-owned gas company to a different business model while not raising costs for people who are already struggling to afford bills. They did a study with PGW in 2021 to think about how we could make that happen. But just like in other periods of history when people knew there needed to be a change but worried about how it would affect the norms they were used to, leadership at PGW is resisting change. Instead, even as they know that gas is causing climate change and that the city has committed to a transition away from fossil fuels, PGW leadership has refused to make any plans to get to net zero greenhouse gas emissions, and opposes any changes to their budgets - budgets that sink millions of dollars into repairs for their old, leaking cast iron pipelines and brand new fossil fuel infrastructure.

 

More and more Philadelphians are realizing that we’re spending money on the wrong things, on fixing a system we need to retire rather than a system for the future. They’re realizing that the people who can afford electric heat are getting off the gas grid, leaving the people who can least afford to make a change to keep paying for a system that will get more expensive the more we invest in repairs and gas upgrades we won’t need, especially when we finally do make a transition plan and need to invest in sustainable system-wide changes.

What Can I Do?

1. Sign Up for Updates

Join the Rapid Action list to get emailed do-from-home actions once per week, like joining a public meeting or calling a representative. These easy actions with simple instructions are connected to PGW’s transition and other Philadelphia environmental justice campaigns and focus on moving a specific person in connection with a long-term strategy. For example, when we were working on getting $5 million in repair funding for low income homeowners into the city budget, we emailed Rapid Action listers to call the mayor’s office with a simple message right before she met with City Council and in connection with other groups organizing their members to do the same. Our mass actions and advocacy were successful.

2. Comment at a Public Meeting

Because of the Sunshine Act, the Gas Commission’s meetings, where they decide on PGW’s budgets and other issues, must be public. The meetings are on zoom monthly - you can find the link posted here - but are canceled more often than they happen, sometimes the day before. The public is not always given a chance to speak and often it is after decisions have already been made. However, because the commissioners attend, it is one of the best places where we can show the Gas Commission - just by attending and speaking simply if given the chance -  that we need a sustainable, equitable, and transparent transition for PGW.

Where Can I Learn More?

A Just Transition

Philadelphia City Council’s Climate Legislation

POWER Interfaith PGW webpage

​Listen: Planet Philadelphia episode

Sierra Club article

News Articles

Philadelphia Gas Commission approves $19 million in new fossil fuel infrastructure - WHYY, Apr 2024

PGW bills to increase in late November as rate hike takes effect - PhillyVoice, Nov 2023

PGW’s Replacement Plan Entrenches Gas Until 2058 Paywall - Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug 2022

"PGW emails show involvement in drafting bill that runs counter to climate goals." - WHYY, Nov 2021

"Philly Wants to Wean Off Gas. The City-Owned Gas Utility Is Refusing to Go Along." - ClimateNexus, Mar 2021

Health Studies

Gas, Emissions, and Climate Change from the EPA

Gas Stoves Asthma Report from Rocky Mountain Institute

Out of Gas Study on New York Affordable Housing Air Quality and Gas Stoves

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