Most regional natural gas bills will drop

Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania, Peoples Natural Gas and Equitable Gas all posted low fourth-quarter gas rates

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Customers of the region's three natural gas utilities will all see lower rates for the next three months.

The utilities -- Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania Inc., Peoples Natural Gas Co. and Equitable Gas Co. -- all posted fourth-quarter rates below 2011 levels that will lead to a lower monthly bill for the average customer. Natural gas costs have dropped in the region over the past year due to unseasonably warm weather and a market flush with gas extracted from formations like the Marcellus Shale that underlies most of Western Pennsylvania.

Equitable Gas customers will see a rate of $5.70 per thousand cubic feet (mcf), a decrease from the $6.51 per mcf seen in the fourth quarter of 2011. The average Equitable customer, calculated as using 90 mcf per year, will see a monthly bill of $82.64, down from $91.12 last year.

Peoples Gas customers will see a new rate of $3.98 per mcf, down from $5.52. The average monthly Peoples bill will be $72.51, down from $82.68 at the end of 2011. That includes a charge of about $4 the company is adding to bills to help fund a project replacing its cast iron piping system.

Columbia Gas has measured energy consumption in therm units since February, and customers will see a rate of 51 cents per therm over the next quarter. The company measured per thousand cubic feet in the fourth quarter of 2011, when the rate was 55 cents per mcf. The metrics are slightly different but comparable. The average Columbia Gas bill will be $73.30, down from the $75.64 average of last year's fourth quarter.

Columbia Gas also announced Friday it was seeking a rate adjustment to recover costs associated with the $400 million upgrading of its underground natural gas distribution facilities. The company is seeking an annual revenue increase of $77.3 million, an increase that would result in the average total bill cost increasing by 23.4 percent.

If approved by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, the Columbia Gas adjustment would go into effect in mid-2013.

Companies are required by state law to adjust rates so they don't make or lose money on fluctuating natural gas sales. The rates were filed with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

Quarterly adjustments do not apply to budget customers whose rates are changed once per year.

businessnews - yourbiz

Erich Schwartzel: eschwartzel@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1455.


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