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Borough gas bills will be cranked up this winter

December 07, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - More than 5,000 customers of the Chambersburg Gas Department can expect to pay about 25 percent to 30 percent more for natural gas this winter than last, but less than those outside the borough, according to John C. Leary, the department's superintendent.

In January of this year, Leary said the average residential gas bill for the month was $195. Figuring in a 30 percent increase, the bill next month could be more than $250, he said recently.

In a report to the borough council in October, Leary said borough customers had paid an average of $1,056 for gas over the previous 12 months, about $200 less than Columbia Gas and PPL customers.

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Nationally, natural gas prices are expected to be about 50 percent higher this winter than last, in part because of increased demand during the past summer, but also because of damage to gas transmission systems in the Gulf Coast region from Hurricane Katrina, Leary said.

"It's going to hit some people really hard, just like gasoline did ... You can't stop using heat," Leary said. "Cutting a couple of degrees in your temperature makes a tremendous difference."

Being a municipally owned, nonprofit gas system is one reason the department can charge less than privately owned gas utilities, according to Leary. The department also is able to share meter reading, engineering and other resources with the borough's electric, water and sewer utilities, he said.

The last rate increase by the department was in 1995 and Leary said no increase is proposed for 2006. While customers will not be paying any more for the cost of distribution and system operations, Leary said the cost of the gas purchased by the borough is passed along to users.

That cost has risen from about $2 per dekatherm in 2000 to more than $12 per dekatherm for this winter, according to department figures.

The borough has purchased its natural gas wholesale for the past five years through the Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia, a joint purchasing agency with more than 70 member systems in Georgia, Florida and Alabama, Leary said.

The borough recently signed agreements with the authority to become a member, which Leary said will save approximately $300,000 a year in the cost of buying gas.

"That's really going to help us more long-term than this winter" Leary said.

County residents who need help getting through this winter's heating season may call the Franklin County Assistance Office at 717-264-6121 for information about the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Leary said.

Borough residents also may call The Salvation Army at 717-264-6169 for information about Project Heat, a program paid for by voluntary contributions from borough utility users, Leary said.

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