The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) has approved a settlement that cuts Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania’s annual revenue increase request by 39%, leaving part of its infrastructure and safety upgrade plans to be decided in separate proceedings.

Columbia had asked the PUC earlier this year for a $46.2 million revenue increase to help fund $186 million in upgrades to its aging underground distribution network and more training for pipeline safety and regulatory compliance (see Daily GPI, March 24). Instead, the commission approved a $28 million increase. The settlement, however, does not resolve a dispute between Columbia Gas and Penn State University over the company’s proposal to abandon a distribution line known as the Snowshoe Lateral.

The PUC elected to separate that issue from the base rate settlement and plans to address the matter in future proceedings. Columbia, a subsidiary of NiSource Inc., which serves more than 400,000 customers in western and southeastern Pennsylvania, has invested more than $900 million over the last seven years to modernize and expand its distribution system.

The company had hoped to increase its rates for residential, commercial and industrial natural gas customers by 4-9%. But the approved settlement calls for Columbia’s monthly residential customer charge to remain unchanged. It also increases funding and eligibility guidelines for its emergency repair program for low-income consumers and enhances efforts to expand the availability of natural gas service.

Columbia would also be allowed to continue recovering $375,000 for its hardship fund through a rider that applies to customers not receiving assistance. The PUC added, though, that Columbia would have to submit an alternate plan for collecting some of those funds in its next rate case proceeding.