Gas rates could be on the rise

SANDUSKY Ohioans could feel the burn of rising energy costs before the year is over.
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

Ohioans could feel the burn of rising energy costs before the year is over.

Columbia Gas of Ohio intends to file a request with the state Public Utilities Commission in early March for a base rate increase that would raise the average customer's monthly bill by about $5.64, that's an extra $67.68 a year.

"We have managed to provide safe and reliable service without raising rates for 14 years," said Jack Partridge, president of Columbia Gas of Ohio, in a release. "But just like roads and bridges, our gas distribution infrastructure ages and declines. There are needs that must be addressed to ensure continued safe, reliable service for years to come."

This base rate increase will affect 1.3 million Columbia Gas customers in more than 60 Ohio counties, including those enrolled in "Choice" or municipal aggregation programs.

Columbua Gas serves about 26,000 Erie County residents, 14,000 Huron County residents and 15,000 Ottawa County residents.

The base rate accounts for less than one quarter of a customer's monthly gas bill, said Chris Kozak, communications manager for Northwest Ohio for Columbis Gas. The majority of the bill, which reflects the gas cost, brings the company no profit. More costly gas bills are the result of rising gas cost, not an increased delivery charge from Columbia, Kozak said.

"We deliver gas... we don't profit on the sale of natural gas," Kozak said. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio demands Columbia Gas sells gas for they same price the company purchases it at.

This is the first time in 14 years Columbia Gas has proposed a base rate increase.

Kozak said the increase is not only justified, but "modest."

The hike in base rates would increase Columbia Gas of Ohio's revenue by $82.4 million, a 6 percent increase. Much of that increased revenue will go toward conservation programs to help people use less natural gas, Kozak said.

At this point, Columbia Gas has only filed its notice of intent. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio expects the full application with the next 30 days.

"The application is closely scrutinized and examined," said Shana Eiselstein, spokeswoman for the utilities commission. The application will go through nine months of procedures, including staff review, local public hearings and testimonies.

"It is a very thorough process," Eiselstein said.