Baltimore Gas and Electric’s plan to place newly upgraded gas regulators on the exterior of homes has some residents pushing back.
The regulators control the pressure of the gas supplied. BGE is replacing older low-pressure gas regulators with new higher-pressure regulators.
Baltimoreans who live in areas where the project was completed in phase one, before 2020, had the new regulators installed inside their homes with a small vent on the outside.
Now that phase two is underway residents, particularly those in historic neighborhoods, are dismayed to find the regulators and vents being installed on the outside of their homes.
The gas regulators were originally installed inside homes due to inadequate outdoor space and impediments to public rights of way, BGE testified to the Maryland legislature in 2020.
“BGE has a unique situation in that its service territory has several densely populated areas such as Baltimore City that do not often provide for appropriate open outside space to allow for outside meter or regulator installations,” the company wrote in a position statement to the Economic Matters Committee of the Maryland House of Delegates. “The utility also has to take into consideration existing local and federal laws that prevent locating equipment on public rights of way, in historic locations or in conflict with the American Disabilities Act standards.”
But BGE later reversed course when they moved to install the regulators outside of residences.
The company says exterior regulators reduce the risk of gas intruding into the home compared to interior regulators.
“The upgrade requires a gas regulator to be installed outside of properties to reduce pressure from the service line to a lower pressure for safe distribution into the building,” Talon Sachs, communication manager for BGE, told Baltimore Fishbowl in an email. “Regulator failures are rare, but if they do fail with a higher-pressure system, it could potentially increase the risk and rate of gas intrusion.”
Sachs explained that outdoor regulators “mitigate this risk because they vent directly outdoors.” They added that indoor regulators were installed in residences before BGE’s 2021 decision to “align with safety best practices, which includes installing gas regulators outdoors for medium and high-pressure gas services.”
Exterior gas regulators also allow easier access for BGE and first responders during emergencies, Sachs said.
But residents argue that exterior regulators pose safety risks of their own.
Community associations of Fells Point, Washington Hill, Butcher’s Hill, Locust Point, Federal Hill, and others have organized in their attempts to communicate their concerns, enlisting the help of their elected officials to find out what has changed since 2020, and why BGE will not place the regulators inside their homes should the owners so choose.
Liz Bement of Federal Hill says she and other residents prefer the interior regulators for many reasons, but her primary concern is safety. In Fells Point, “cars routinely run into homes,” especially on corner buildings, she said.
People also ride scooters and bikes on the narrow sidewalks, Bement said, and the protruding regulators have no surrounding box or apparatus to protect them, making them vulnerable to vandalism or accidental crashes from the scooters and bikes.
The regulators also further narrow sidewalks that, in many areas are only three feet wide, Bement said. She argues this sets up potential violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Sachs said BGE is not aware of any ADA violations associated with the outdoor regulators, and that BGE works with Baltimore City to ensure compliance. However, “[a]lternative methods will be explored if specific locations lack the required space for an outdoor regulator due to building codes or, regulations,” they said.
Bement is also concerned that the regulators will negatively impact the exterior appearance of houses in historic neighborhoods.
Kate Simms, president of the Fells Point Residents’ Association (FPRA), shares the concerns about safety, vandalism, ADA compliance, and aesthetics.
She is also unhappy about the inconsistency of the regulators’ appearance. The number of pipes varies from house to house, while others have the regulators inside with just the vent on the outside, she said.
Simms called BGE’s communication throughout the project “atrocious.”
“When BGE initially presented this project to us, they said it would be down the road in the next year or two,” Simms said. “Suddenly, within a month they had signs posted that they were starting the project.”
“They don’t present clear information about what is going to happen in your home,” she continued. Simms cites drawings and photos from BGE’s information packet as deceptive and vague, saying that each house’s regulator looks different from one another and different from the pictures.
If a homeowner refuses to have the work done, or wants the regulators placed inside the home as in phase one, Simms said BGE has told residents their gas service will be shut off. She is concerned about the approach, saying residents feel threatened if they don’t comply.
“Please know, BGE does not want to discontinue service for our customers,” Sachs told Baltimore Fishbowl. However, customers “are required to provide BGE with unobstructed access to its equipment.”
“Denying BGE access to the equipment will start a service disconnection process per the Gas Service Tariff,” they added.
As president of FRPA, Simms invited BGE to the association’s Feb. 1 meeting, at which residents voiced their concerns. BGE cited “internal policy” and 2016 NTSB guidelines in their explanations of the project.
The Fells Point association pursued the matter with state and local officials, and held a Zoom meeting Feb. 6 with BGE; the Public Service Commission (PSC); and representatives from the offices of Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, City Councilmember Zeke Cohen, Maryland Del. Luke Clippinger, and others.
Simms said Ferguson’s office was adamant that the neighborhoods’ request should be honored based on their status as federally recognized historic districts. BGE disagreed, saying there would be no exceptions to their policy. PSC’s representative “strongly encouraged” BGE to work with the community to find a compromise.
BGE promised a pause to review community input, and neighborhood representatives felt hopeful, Simms said.
She said BGE later followed up with an offer to work with residents on a “concealment option,” but said they would be moving forward with the external regulators. Residents have been informed via door hangers that this work will start May 1.
According to Simms, BGE has offered no guidance or details about potential concealment options for the regulators, other than what its FAQ sheet states.
“Structures can be placed in front of the equipment if they are 50 lbs. or less or at least 3ft. away from the regulator,” according to the FAQ sheet.
Residents feel that neither option works. They argue such a structure would further narrow the sidewalks or, if placed 3 feet away from the regulator, would not adequately conceal it.
The FAQ sheet says residents may also paint the regulators as long as they make sure not to obstruct the opening of the vent.
Sachs reiterated that installing gas regulators outside of buildings is safer than inside.
“BGE’s policy on outdoor gas regulator installation reflects the prevailing safety best practices in the industry,” Sachs said.
Its safety first, relocating the medium pressure and high pressure regulators on the outside of homesis a good move on the part of BG&E,
because its prevents a possible regulator failure and prevents a possible gas explosion, bye the safe relocation of the gas regulators.
They will make the front of the house ugly and vandalism is a worse threat. Not to mention the front of my house has been hit already. Then another accident took out the street light pole right in front of my home.
BGE is threatening homeowners with discontinuation of service if they do not comply. That is unacceptable. Many historic homes have already suffered this horribly ugly installation and the new meters will permanently disfigure a National Register Historic District, Fell’s Point. BGE has offered only nonsensical remedies. The agencies that claim to protect the historic neighborhoods- Commission for Historic Architectural Preservation and Maryland Historical Trust have dismally failed the historic district.
I can see both sides of this issue. I have already had my regulator replaced, however mine is outside as well, whereas the rest of my neighbors had theirs placed inside. I was told by the installer that becaof where the old regulator was that they would have to break through my front steps to place the new one inside and that it could not be boxed in as it was previously. My basement is finished, so I choose “ugly” regulator outside rather than “ugly” inside. I just put a big potted plant in front of it.
I have begged BGE to install pylons to provide even a small amount of protection for my house, already featuring an external regulator. My house is on a corner of a very busy street and a busier intersection, popular with pedestrians and scooters and drunken sports fans hurriedly hoping to find illicit free parking. Contractors think they can park in the alley with impunity with their doors literally hitting the wall of our house. One car will park on the other side of the alley and someone will try to “squeeze” by the external gas regulator.
BGE told us NO on the pylons, saying the alley was “too narrow”. A house at the other end of the alley HAS pylons surrounding their external regulator. BGE also told us we could, at our own (considerable) expense, “relocate” the regulator to the inside of our house. Our particular area has not been inflicted with the blight of the external regulators, but our neighbors on Montgomery have been struggling to work with BGE. BGE is basically acting like bullies on this, despite the attempts of our neighborhood assn to work *with* them.
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