COLUMBIA — Ameren Missouri is a little more than halfway through replacing older gas regulators — the device that controls the pressure of natural gas entering a building — on meter sets across the state.
Newer regulators have an internal relief valve that is supposed to stop the flow of natural gas into the home when excess pressure is detected. Older regulators are supposed to vent some gas to the street but do not shut off the flow to the house when excess pressure is detected.
Mike Holman, manager of Missouri gas operations for Ameren, said the replacement program, which began six months ago, is a continuing part of Ameren's "commitment to providing reliable services to customers."
Regulators that lack internal relief were only used in certain regions of the state, so Ameren is going location to location to check and, if need be, replace regulators, Holman said. He said Ameren used to not keep records of which model regulators went into which homes.
Because it did not keep records, the company doesn't know which homes still have outdated regulators and must check neighborhood by neighborhood. Ameren is now keeping records of the installation of new regulators.
Holman said the highest concentration of replacements is happening in southeastern Missouri around Cape Girardeau, while the second highest concentration of replacements is happening in Columbia.
Holman estimates that 4,200 regulators needed to be replaced in Columbia, and 14,000 regulators in total needed to be replaced across the state. The utility has already replaced 2,900 of the older regulators in Columbia.
Holman said regulators that lack internal relief do not pose a threat and are not known to cause maintenance issues.
Ameren recently settled a lawsuit with the adult daughters of Carl and Merna Sneed who died as a result of a natural gas explosion at their home, 308 McNab Drive, on March 14, 2008. After the settlement was approved last week in Boone County Circuit Court, one of the daughters, Patricia “Penny” Sneed, alleged that “a lack of overpressure protection in a 29-year-old gas regulator” was the cause of the explosion.
Natural gas customer Joan Pottinger, 709 Donnelly Ave., said the service regulator on the gas meter at her house was replaced on Sept. 6 by Ameren. Ameren visited her house about two months earlier to conduct a routine maintenance check. Afterward, she was told that her regulator was out-of-date and needed to be upgraded.
“They were looking at everyone's in the the neighborhood to see if they needed to be replaced,” Pottinger said.
Her house, like many other homes in her neighborhood, was built in the 1950s and had the original gas meter, Pottinger said.
“They said it was a regular update,” Pottinger said. “They said that if the regulators are not leaking now, they might leak in the future.”
Nancy Silvers, 800 Hardin St. in central Columbia, said she received a notice in the mail from Ameren about the regulator replacement at her house. She thought the notice might have been for the apartments across the street because the address had an “A” or “B” in it — Silvers couldn’t recall which. She called Ameren and was told she was probably supposed to get a new regulator anyway and that if a technician came, he would leave a door hanger notification.
Silvers found the notification when she returned home from out of town, indicating that the regulator on her gas meter had been replaced. She called Ameren, and employees came within an hour to turn her gas back on. Silvers said her house is about 60 years old.
Other customers report Ameren representatives have visited their homes and left door hangers in the neighborhood around West Boulevard and Worley Street.
Holman said Ameren informed the Missouri Public Service Commission of the plan to identify and replace the regulators.
Bob Leonberger, supervisor of engineering and safety in the energy unit of the Missouri Public Service Commission, said the commission was aware that Ameren was replacing regulators, but the commission is not requiring Ameren to do so.
The Public Service Commission's Gas Utilities and Gas Safety Standards calls for regulators to be "in good mechanical condition" and "adequate from the standpoint of capacity and reliability of operation for the service in which it is employed."
Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.