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Ohio Commission Calls for Separate Gas Cost Filings for December, January

Ohio Commission Calls for Separate Gas Cost Filings for December, January

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) last Tuesday essentially scrapped the quarterly rate revision for the winter because of declining gas costs, ordering Columbia Gas of Ohio and Dominion East Ohio to file new rates for December by Nov. 24 to reflect the actual cost of natural gas for December and to file new rates for January seven days before the expiration of December rates.

"Revisions to these [gas cost recovery] rates are reasonable as they will reflect the actual costs of natural gas that have decreased over the past week," PUCO Chairman Alan R. Schriber stated. "However, in light of the ongoing volatility in the costs of natural gas, we believe customers will be better served by the companies filing separate rates for each December and January to ensure they reflect actual costs."

The Ohio Consumers' Counsel applauded the decision to factor in the reduced prices, saying it would help consumers "make educated decisions about energy efficiency and choosing a competitive supplier, and [would] help prevent large adjustments [that] would need to be paid by customers in the future.

"Consumers are frustrated that natural gas prices are going up across the country. We are pleased that the two largest natural gas companies in Ohio will be required to take into account recent price reductions in the market as well as file new cost estimates for January. This ensures that the rates more accurately reflect market conditions, said Janine Migden-Ostrander, Consumers' Counsel.

The companies had originally filed before the winter quarter (November through January) started to collect at a rate of $8.7947/Mcf for Columbia and $8.793/Mcf for Dominion. On Nov. 12 the companies filed to increase the rate -- to $9.9411/Mcf for Columbia and $9.984 for Dominion -- to reflect projected increases in gas costs

In refusing to accept the latest filings the Ohio commission said the Nov. 12 filings "do not reflect the decrease in the actual cost of natural gas that has occurred since the companies filed their requests. Columbia and Dominion are directed to file revised GCR rates which will reflect the actual cost of natural gas applicable to December 2004 as of today."

The companies' revised rates for December must be filed on Nov. 24. Columbia's revised rate will be effective from Nov. 29 through Dec. 29 and Dominion's revised rate will be effective from Dec. 2 through Jan. 4, the PUCO said. Seven days prior to the expiration of the December rates, each company must file a revised rate applicable to January 2005.

The commission also directed Columbia and Dominion to meet with PUCO staff to explore alternatives to quarterly GCR filings in the future. More frequent updates are necessary to better react to the changing costs of natural gas.

In a separate issuance Tuesday, the commission modified its winter reconnection order to require utility companies to maintain home heating service for customers facing disconnection if those customers have scheduled an appointment to apply for assistance through the Emergency-Home Energy Assistance Program. The home heating service must be maintained until five business days after the customer's appointment. If the utility company has not received confirmation of an E-HEAP benefit at that time, the utility may proceed with disconnection.

"At this point, consumers need to be aware of opportunities to budget their energy expenses and take control of their natural gas usage," Migden-Ostrander said. The Ohio Consumers Counsel provides information and complaint resolution "to help customers make it through a tough winter heating season." Information is available at the OCC website at www.pickocc.org. Its publications include: "Facts About Natural Gas Budget Billing," which provides company-specific information about programs to spread winter heating costs throughout the year, and "Natural Gas Pricing," which helps consumers learn about how natural gas is priced, the factors affecting those prices and tips to help manage winter gas bills," as well as others about energy assistance for low income households.

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