WHO SHOULD PAY FOR NATURAL GAS SAFETY?

Carl Eric Leivo, Ph.D.

Carl Leivo
Carl Leivo

“We’re sitting on a virual rocket: One spark and you’ve got a rocket, sweetheart,” according to Len Carlson. He’s a Golden State Manufactured Home Owners League (GSMOL) representative to the California Public Utilities Commission. He’s referring to the fact that manufactured homes across the state have been installed over natural gas main lines. Leaking natural gas can be trapped beneath mobile homes because they normally have underbellies and vapor barriers to keep road dirt and moisture out during transport.

Elderly residents of Sea Esta Village in Ventura, CA found themselves without gas service for ten days in 2011. While mobile home residents showered in the communal laundry room, crews rushed to replace aging gas lines in two–thirds of the park. Southern California Gas cut off service to the park when multiple gas leaks were discovered.

Most manufactured home parks operate private, master meter natural gas systems. Area utilities deliver natural gas to a master meter. The park operator distributes natural gas to individual homes in the park. Park owners currently operate mini–utility companies. Residents pay the park owner directly for their gas usage.

California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) personnel regulate private master–meter systems. Parks must send annual reports and CPUC employees may conduct audits. The CPUC attempts to inspect parks once every five years. During audits of natural gas systems, state employees investigate:

Park owners should maintain and upgrade their natural gas pipeline systems. According to CPUC rules, parks purchase natural gas at wholesale rates but sell natural gas to park residents at retail rates. Park operators are supposed to use the resulting extra revenues to maintain utility systems.

Craig Hull, a resident of Sea Esta Village (and the GSMOL Vice President for Zone B–1) reports that his park owner succeeded in getting the City of Ventura to approve a space rent increase to pay for the gas line improvements. Craig suspected that this was not an appropriate pass through. He contacted the GSMOL attorney and learned that the CPUC requires that park owners must use their utility funds to pay for line improvements. When the City Attorney learned of the error, the park was ordered to pay back to residents the funds falsely collected.

The CPUC has opened a “rulemaking” to decide how to replace master–meters with direct utility service. The CPUC proposes to cancel the park owner role. Natural gas (and electricity) would be provided by public utilities directly to residents; residents would be billed by the utility companies themselves. The CPUC may make a decision as early as October 17, 2013.

In most cases, the existing natural gas systems in parks are in such poor condition, utility companies cannot repair them and bring them up to today’s safety standards. Len Carlson says: “They know the infrastructure is totally terrible in more ways than one.” New natural gas lines, meters, and home service lines need to be installed. The cost may total in the billions of dollars. Park residents cannot pay the cost. Funds to replace dangerous natural gas lines are included in a PG&E rate increase application.

The CPUC will be holding public hearings regarding the PG&E application. They have scheduled a hearing in San Luis Obispo on June 25, 2013 at 7:00 pm in the Government Center Board Chambers, 1055 Monterey Street, San Luis Obispo. The safety of manufactured home residents and their pocketbooks will be topics at the public hearing. This is an opportunity for manufactured home owners to stress their safety concerns and modest finances.

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Carl Eric Leivo, Ph.D. is the author of MHP Living: Successful Living in California Manufactured Home Parks. This book is very useful to every mobile/manufactured homeowner as it covers all of the important issues. It will alert you of your rights and save you money!

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