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Columbia Gas rates rise

January 03, 2006|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

daniels@herald-mail.com

Columbia Gas of Maryland customers will face a 17 percent rate increase, according to company information.

The increase comes as a result of the company's filing of its quarterly purchase gas adjustment with the Maryland Public Service Commission.

According to the company, the average Columbia Gas residential customer can expect to pay $142.18 this quarter, up from $121.46 for the last three months. The new rate is about 47 percent more than for the same three-month period last year, when customers paid an average of $96.63.

Heading into the coldest months of what analysts expect to be an expensive winter heating season, Columbia Gas spokesman Rob Boulware said some customers have implemented energy-saving techniques available on the company's Web site.

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Columbia Gas sets its rates quarterly, based on the price it pays its suppliers for gas. It last increased its rates by 38 percent in September for the three months ended Dec. 29. Boulware said he has seen an increase in the number of customers seeking assistance through programs such as Columbia's budget payment plans, the federal Low Income Energy Assistance Program and Maryland's Energy Assistance Program.

"I think it has been in the news for a long period of time, which certainly gives individuals time to prepare themselves," he said, noting participation in the company's budget payment plan has not been as high as he anticipated. "This is still an ongoing effort, we still are doing outreach to our customers."

Boulware said customers having trouble making their payments are urged to contact Columbia Gas and set up a payment plan rather than risk having their heat cut off. He said Columbia Gas will make an effort to accommodate those customers who have sought to pay their bills on time.

He said state law in Maryland allows utility companies to shut off heat to customers, based on a set amount for how much they owe and over how long a period they have been delinquent, after they have been given warning and advised of the assistance programs available to them.

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