Sunday, March 8, 2009

Pardon My Gas Meter

By: Jason Yots

We recently attended a presentation by the Black Rock-Riverside Good Neighbor Planning Alliance (GNPA) regarding the relocation by National Fuel of natural gas meters from the basements to the exteriors of Buffalo buildings.

First of all, I learned a great deal about natural gas delivery and gas meter mechanics at this presentation. For instance, I learned (1) that National Fuel is in the process of modernizing our century-old natural gas delivery system, (2) that this conversion will, according to National Fuel, increase the gas pressure into buildings from .33 lbs per square inch (psi) to 60 psi, (3) that a "gas meter" in fact contains three primary parts: the meter, a regulator and a shut-off valve and (4) that anyone with a crescent wrench can shut off the gas supply on an external meter (ie, the meters only lock in the "off" position, not in the "on" position).

GNPA representatives argued that the exterior installation of gas meters was not only aesthetically and historically compromising, but also dangerous and unnecessary. GNPA cited several examples across the country of the interior installation of gas meters that required only a regulator vent and an emergency shut-off to be located on the outside of the building. The group also described alternatives for meter-reading that reduce or eliminate the need for gas company representatives to enter the end-user's building. In the "it would be funny if it wasn't so sad" category, the GNPA folks also presented photos of ghastly meter relocations and cited a stream of news accounts describing exterior meter mishaps.

The National Fuel representatives countered (1) that interior gas meters will be much more dangerous with the increased gas pressure under the new delivery system (a risk they don't wish to assume), (2) that many automated meter reading systems are inaccurate (a claim refuted by GNPA), (3) that, for increased safety, the Buffalo Fire Department wants gas shut-off valves located on the front of local buildings (a claim debated by a firefighter in the audience) and (4) that, for $250, National Fuel will relocate the meter to a location selected by the building owner (within five feet of the proposed relocation spot).

Both sides presented compelling arguments, and I don't know whether GNPA's efforts will force any changes in National Fuel's approach to meter placement. I do know that Buffalo's Black Rock neighborhood is one of our oldest and most historically-significant communities. As preservationists, we applaud GNPA's efforts to not only raise awareness of this issue, but to present potentially "win-win" solutions to the problem. Thanks to their efforts, this Buffalo homeowner now knows what questions to ask when National Fuel rings my doorbell and announces that my interior gas meter is moving out.

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