WARWICK — In past years, state utilities regulators have approved, as a matter of course, the annual replacement of as much as 70 miles of aging natural gas mains made of outdated materials that are prone to leaking.

But times have changed. With the adoption two years ago of a sweeping state law to slash greenhouse gas emissions, the Public Utilities Commission is rethinking every aspect of the state’s energy regime, including how Rhode Islanders heat their homes and businesses.

And because one possibility on the table is the eventual abandonment of the underground network of pipes that delivers natural gas around the state, the PUC is now questioning how much is worth sinking into Rhode Island Energy’s replacement program and what the impacts of continued spending are for the utility’s 273,000 gas customers.

Advocates with the Acadia Center and the Conservation Law Foundation called for an investment in electric heat pumps to shore up the island’s heating system rather than increasing dependence on gas, which is delivered by a single pipeline across the Sakonnet River. The state Energy Facility Siting Board turned down that petition a year and a half ago, but wouldn’t rule out a moratorium on new gas connections on the island in the future.

Read the full article in the Providence Journal here.