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Published: Saturday, 4/15/2006

Columbia customers get relief


Prices at the pump continue to rise, but many people in metro Toledo are in store for energy-price relief next month.

The average household supplied by Columbia Gas of Ohio will see its natural gas bill fall by nearly half to $73 in May from an anticipated $141 this month.

Warming temperatures are the biggest factor. But Columbia Gas informed the state s Public Utilities Commission yesterday that it will cut rates again.

The firm will charge $1.07 for 100 cubic feet of natural gas in May, down one cent from $1.08 now.

It will be the first time since October that the average household will be able to look forward to a monthly bill below $100.

The demand for natural gas is going down as we move to the spring, explained Chris Kozak, a Columbia Gas spokesman. And there is supply left in the system because we ve had a warmer than normal winter.

Still, that is the smallest decrease since rates began to drop in February after peaking at an all-time high of $1.36 per 100 cubic feet in January.

And the planned May rate is 9 cents more than the 98 cents per 100 cubic feet charged a year earlier, when household bills averaged $67.

Mr. Kozak said his firm didn t seek a lower rate because it expects wholesale gas prices to stay high.

Area customers of Columbia Gas are able to select one of nine other providers, and a few offer rates lower than the utility. Those choices are available through the PUCO s Web site, www.puco.ohio.gov; look for the Apples to Apples chart.

Gulf Coast hurricanes last year have disrupted supplies, which could be upset further by storms forecast for this year. Also, Mr. Kozak said, wholesale prices for natural gas are expected to follow crude oil prices, which continue to spike.

The rates do not include an additional 26 cents per 100 cubic feet in delivery charges and taxes. The latest rate will take effect unless regulators object.

Contact Gary Pakulski at: gpakulski@theblade.com or 419-724-6082.

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