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Public hearings set for Columbia Gas of Maryland Inc. rate hike

June 05, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

Two hearings in Western Maryland next week will give the public a chance to comment on a rate hike request from a local gas utility that would increase costs by more than 16 percent for most customers.

Columbia Gas of Maryland Inc., filed a request before the Maryland Public Service Commission in late February, asking to adjust its rates  to recover money that was required to upgrade the company’s underground gas distribution facilities, according to a news release.

The proposed rate increases are designed to boost revenues by $5.3 million, company officials have said.

A public hearing on the proposed rate hike will be held at Hagerstown Community College on Monday and in Cumberland, Md., on Tuesday.

Chief Public Utility Law Judge Terry J. Romine will preside over the public hearings as well as the evidentiary hearings that follow later this month, a PSC official said.

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If approved by the PSC, the proposed hike would result in an average total bill for a residential customer who purchases 70 therms of gas per month to increase from $67.93 to $79.18, or about 16.5 percent, company officials said in the release.

The average total bill for a commercial/industrial customer who purchases 240 therms of gas per month would increase from $223.52 to $261.92, or about 17.1 percent, officials said.

For larger commercial/industrial operations, the company said customers purchasing 4,180 therms of gas per month would see a smaller increase of less than 1 percent, from $3,410.73 to $3,425.74.

“Even after considering the full increase contained in this filing, when you adjust for inflation, the total average residential customer bill will be about 18 percent lower than it was 20 years ago,” Mark Kempic, president of Columbia Gas of Maryland, said in the release. “Natural gas continues to be one of the most economical ways to heat your home.”

Columbia officials have said the company has invested nearly $17 million to improve its pipeline facilities, including the replacement of 20 miles of aging underground infrastructure in Maryland communities.

In the last five years, Columbia has reduced the amount of aging bare steel pipe in its system by 25 percent, replacing it with modern polyethylene pipe.

“We are committed to providing safe, reliable and efficient natural gas service to our customers, as we have for the past 100 years,” Kempic said.  “This filing supports our commitment to modernizing our infrastructure so that we can continue to provide the safe, reliable and economic natural gas service customers are used to receiving.”

Comments heard during the public hearings become part of the official record and will be considered along with other testimony and evidence presented to the PSC for the proposed rate increase.

Columbia Gas of Maryland is a subsidiary of NiSource Inc., a natural gas and electric utility company headquartered in Merrillville, Ind.

The HCC hearing will start at 7 p.m. in Rooms 211 and 213 of the Elliott Center, on the upper level of the Career Programs Building. Parking for the hearing will be available in Lot F.

IF YOU GO ...

What: Public hearing for Columbia Gas of Maryland’s request to increase rates

Where: Rooms 211 and 213, Elliott Center in Career Programs Building at Hagerstown Community College, 11400 Robinwood Drive

When: Monday, June 10, 7 p.m.

Other Details: Parking available in HCC’s Lot F

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