December 2018, Vol. 245, No. 12


APGA Chairman to Focus on Safety and Consumer Education

Owen Reeves is the 2018-2019 chairman of the American Public Gas Association (APGA), the national trade association for publicly owned natural gas utilities. There are over 1,000 public gas utilities in the United States and over 700 are members of APGA. 


As gas system director for Henderson Municipal Gas (HMG) since March 1, 1999, Reeves has full responsibility for the largest municipal gas system in Kentucky with just under 10,000 customers. He also serves as chair of Public Energy Authority of Kentucky (PEAK)

An engineer by profession, Reeves earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from West Virginia University and master’s degree in business administration from the University of Southern Indiana. 

He is married with two grown children and enjoys hunting, fishing and motorcycle riding.

P&GJ: Tell us a little about the Henderson, Kentucky Gas System.

Reeves: Established in 1859, the Henderson Municipal Gas system is the fifth-oldest system in the United States. The system serves the natural gas needs of the city of Henderson, adjacent areas, and the city of Corydon. The system provides natural gas service to approximately 8,500 residential customers, 1,100 commercial customers and 50 industrial customers. Our system is comprised of 260 miles of mains and 130 miles of service lines. 

P&GJ: What are your top priorities for the coming year?

Reeves: Natural gas has many benefits: it is domestically abundant, affordable, reliable, resilient and efficient. Unfortunately, despite these many benefits we continue to see an increasing amount of attacks on natural gas. Whether it is through appliance efficiency standards, building codes and standards, or movements toward decarbonization, the direct use of natural gas continues to face threats on any number of levels. 

APGA and its members have worked hard to meet these threats head-on in order to ensure American consumers can continue to enjoy the numerous benefits that natural gas provides, and it is critical that we continue to do so.  

Consumer education will also be a priority of mine as we must continue to communicate to the public regarding the benefits, particularly the improvement in terms of quality of life, that natural gas appliances can provide. 

Lastly, APGA will be focusing on congressional efforts to reauthorize the Pipeline Safety Act, which is an issue Congress will be taking up next year. 

P&GJ: What are some of the challenges to natural gas that you are focused on?

Reeves: At the federal level, we have seen appliance standards in the past that would have the effect of pushing consumers away from natural gas appliances. APGA and its members are strong supporters of energy efficiency. In fact, on a full-fuel-cycle basis, the direct use of natural gas is 92% efficient. However, efficiency standards must be based on sound science and be economically justifiable.  

Smart energy policies, including efficiency standards, should include ways to reduce energy consumption, while utilizing current energy infrastructure in the most efficient way. However, we also must ensure that our energy policies protect consumer options, balance their energy needs and ultimately ensure that our energy infrastructure is secure and economically viable for future generations.  Unfortunately, we are also seeing increased attacks on natural gas at the state and local levels. 

P&GJ: Can you discuss some of the opposition to natural gas you are seeing at the state and local levels?

Reeves: In recent years we have seen several states and municipalities consider policies that include residential electrification in a pursuit of deep decarbonization goals. Across the country, we have seen a growing effort to influence policymakers at all levels by groups that think the only way to ensure a healthy and clean environment is to eliminate natural gas.  

I firmly believe that they are wrong, and I am hopeful more local governments will stand up and speak out against these irresponsible policies that would do nothing for the environment and lead to irreparable harm for consumers. We are not seeing electrification in Kentucky, but in California legislation has been passed banning fossil fuel use in new construction in the very new future. New York does not allow fracking, yet neighboring Pennsylvania enjoys energy riches.

P&GJ: What is your view of the push toward electrification?

Reeves: I would think most people, including myself, want to leave a clean and healthy world for all future generations – but electrifying everything is not going to make that happen. There is no debate that solar and wind technologies will help efforts to make the energy we all use cleaner. However, the very nature of these intermittent resources requires that we continue to invest in clean and readily available energy that keeps the lights on when the sun isn’t shining, or the wind isn’t blowing.

I believe that this “all eggs in one basket” approach is short-sighted. The fact is natural gas use in homes is three times as efficient as electricity, represents the lowest cost option and its uses in residential and commercial applications are among the smallest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

More than 175 million Americans use natural gas in their homes or businesses.  In fact, households that use all-electric appliances pay almost $900 a year more than those that have the traditional mix of natural gas and electric homes. At a time when families and businesses in states across the nation are finding it harder to make ends meet and home prices are skyrocketing, APGA maintains that policymakers should be focused on energy policies that every family can afford. 

The people who count on natural gas for affordable heat, hot water and cooking live in the communities we serve. Our neighbors shouldn’t have to choose between food, medicine, childcare and their energy costs. We must continue to champion “direct use” of natural gas and directly confront the move to electrification.

P&GJ: How are you communicating your messages to the public?

Reeves: APGA has been working over the past year on a large-scale, national consumer messaging initiative. We have a task group that has worked with a Washington, D.C.-based PR firm to conduct extensive research on consumer perceptions of natural gas, and then developed messaging that resonates with consumers. We plan to deploy this message in the coming months and look forward to achieving our goal of increasing the direct use of natural gas for American consumers. 

APGA has an active Marketing & Sales Committee that works on initiatives throughout the year to communicate with customers and train gas utility employees on marketing and communication. We hold a marketing conference every year that features sessions like customer communication and sales techniques. We also develop and promote national celebrations like Public Natural Gas Week and Gas Utility Workers’ Day.

APGA also works with other organizations like the American Gas Association (AGA) and Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (NGAA) on communication efforts. APGA and these associations recently held a training event for employees of the gas industry. At the training, participants learned how to be advocates for natural gas and how to go back to their companies and deliver this message to fellow employees. Most recently, APGA created a Media and Public Outreach Committee, with the mission of developing and deploying a broad media and outreach plan, which communicates the benefits that the direct use of natural gas provides while appropriately responding to attacks on natural gas.

P&GJ: What are the plans on the operational issues?

Reeves: APGA’s operations activities are focused in three primary areas: regulatory advocacy, creating best practice sharing venues, and developing tools to assist members in meeting regulatory requirements and recommendations. Natural gas operators are in a unique situation under the current administration to show improvements to pipeline safety through voluntary actions. To memorialize this commitment, the APGA membership adopted the APGA Commitment to Pipeline Safety in 2018.

P&GJ: Turning to pipeline safety, where is APGA focusing?

Reeves: The entire pipeline industry, including APGA, has focused on voluntary actions that go above and beyond existing pipeline safety regulatory requirements. The American Petroleum Institute (API) Recommended Practice (RP) 1173: Pipeline Safety Management Systems provides an excellent roadmap for a wholistic pipeline safety management program. APGA has developed a planning, or gap analysis, tool that will enable APGA members and all small operators to compare their existing programs and initiatives to those recommended by API RP 1173. 

Additionally, the APGA System Operational Achievement Recognition (SOAR) program is a best practice sharing program developed by APGA to both recognize member systems that achieve operational excellence and help participants identify potential areas of improvement. The program also includes virtual roundtables on specific operational issues where leading practices are identified and shared with all participants, regardless of their SOAR recognition level.

P&GJ: What about any new regulatory requirements? How is APGA preparing?

Reeves: APGA only anticipates two major rulemakings to be published in the near future: The Plastic Pipe Rulemaking, and the requirements within The Safety of Gas Transmission and Gathering Lines Rulemaking related to congressional mandates. 

The plastic pipe rule has been under development for several years and many APGA members are eager for its publication. There are numerous positive changes to pipeline safety regulations within the rule, including a modified design factor for polyethylene pipe and expanded use of polyamide materials.  And on a personal system note, HMG is excited about the viability of using 6-inch PA 12 on a project in the first quarter of 2019.

One major requirement in the proposed rule that may prove to be challenging for APGA members concerns tracking & traceability. However, APGA members do see the benefit of this requirement and are hopeful that the final rule gives some guidance on how to move forward on this initiative, without prescriptively requiring a full tracking & traceability program. APGA has developed tools to help its members prepare for this rule and will hold webinars to assist members in implementing the final rule once published.  

APGA supports the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) addressing congressional mandates within The Safety of Gas Transmission & Gathering Lines Rule. Additionally, APGA believes it is critical that PHMSA provide clarity on the differentiation between gas distribution and gas transmission pipelines. 

Currently, there are several different interpretations issued by PHMSA and various state regulators on the definition of Transmission Line. We believe by defining “distribution center,” which is referenced in the existing transmission line definition, it will alleviate these varying interpretations. In order for PHMSA to fully understand the impact of this rulemaking, APGA believes this ambiguity needs to be addressed. APGA is working with all applicable industry trade associations to prepare all gas transmission pipeline operators for the finalization of this rulemaking. P&GJ

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