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Published: Thursday, 2/9/2006

Consumers Counsel seeks hearing on natural-gas surcharge

A surcharge on Columbia Gas of Ohio bills to help fund a program for low-income customers is going up almost fivefold, and a state consumer watchdog wants regulators to reconsider.

The Ohio Consumers' Counsel has asked the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to again weigh whether the increase is necessary.

Columbia Gas, the dominant natural-gas provider in metro Toledo, asked for all customers to pay 4 cents per hundred cubic feet, up from 0.82 cent. Also getting an increase is Dominion East Ohio Gas Co., which serves part of northwest Ohio. It asked for 5.65 cents per hundred cubic feet, up from 0.11 cent. Both new rates will last three years.

The money goes into a Percentage of Income Payment Plans program, through which participants with lower incomes are billed reduced amounts for their natural gas.

Columbia Gas customers use an average of 980 hundred cubic feet annually; they now will be charged about $40 a year, up from $8.

The regulators approved the increases after determining a hearing was not needed. With gas prices up significantly this year, the number of participants in the program has surged.

The Consumers' Counsel has asked for a hearing on whether the increases are necessary. The PUCO has not ruled on the request.

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