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Published: Friday, 2/2/2007

Columbia Gas seeks fee to fix faulty hookups

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Columbia Gas estimates up to 400,000 customers may have
meter-connecting pipes that need to be replaced.
Columbia Gas estimates up to 400,000 customers may have meter-connecting pipes that need to be replaced.
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COLUMBUS - Ohio's biggest natural gas provider said yesterday that replacing potentially faulty outdoor line hookups could cost it $200 million.

Columbia Gas of Ohio wants to be able to charge all customers about $2 a month for years to pay for it.

Columbia Gas officials said up to 400,000 of the company's 1.4 million customers could have the hookups, known as risers, that could be prone to failure and develop leaks. The riser is the pipe that comes up from underground and connects to the gas meter.

The ones expected to have problems are certain types of plastic pipes, not metal ones. If that part of the pipe fails now, it is the homeowner's responsibility to pay for repairs and it could cost several hundred dollars.

The company, which delivers natural gas to 177,000 northwest Ohio customers, said it will file its plan with state regulators. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio would then determine whether the plan is acceptable.

A PUCO spokesman said the company has until Monday to file its plan.

The plan arose because Alan Schriber, agency chairman, asked the state's gas utility companies last month to inspect all such hookups and replace those found to be faulty.

In Ohio, the homeowner owns the line that runs underground from the street to the house, up into the outdoor meter, and then into the house. It is usually installed by contractors when the house is built.

Under its proposal, Columbia Gas would be given ownership of those hookups and have responsibility for fixing or repairing them.

The cost of doing those repairs, however, would be spread to all customers, not just those with the faulty pipes, under the company proposal.

Under a $2-a-month surcharge, Columbia Gas could recoup the cost of the program in about five years, but it is unknown how long the surcharge would be in effect or whether it might be reduced after a certain period.

Columbia Gas has customers in 64 of Ohio's 88 counties.

Company spokesman Chris Kozak said the utility has begun recruiting inspectors and assembling a work force to identify and repair pipes that are at risk.

Identification is done by observing the shape of the pipes connecting to the gas meter.

There are about 20 types of risers, but only some plastic ones are at risk, Mr. Schriber said.

Metal pipes can leak, but when they do, the leaks aren't as dangerous because they're usually not as big.

Ohio's other gas utilities are Dominion East Ohio, with about 1.2 million customers; Duke Energy Ohio, with approximately 415,000 customers; and Vectren Energy Delivery of Ohio, with 318,000 customers.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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