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Published: Friday, 3/16/2007

Columbia Gas proposes to cut rate to 88 cents in April

Customers of Columbia Gas of Ohio will see a significant break on their heating bills next month as the rate goes down and they use less fuel for heating.

The utility asked state regulators yesterday to allow a charge of 88 cents per 100 cubic feet in April, down 13 cents from this month and down 20 cents from a year ago.

The average bill, based on weather predictions, is expected to be $112, down from $141 a year ago. Regulators typically approve rate requests.

Columbia Gas said the lower rate is primarily because its suppliers are charging less.

Mike Welch, vice president of alternative gas supplier Integrys Energy Services, formerly WPS Energy, said gas supplies are strong right now, creating a favorable price situation for customers.

Recent gas storage numbers show that about 1.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas is in the nation's underground storage sites. "That is significantly below where it was (1.8 trillion) this time last year but still well above the five-year storage average," he said.

The utilities typically count on the heating fuel being needed about two more weeks, and after that, storage supplies are replenished.

However, some supplies are tapped in the summer if temperatures rise and more electricity is needed to run air conditioners and businesses. Some mini-power plants are fueled by natural gas.

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