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Published: Saturday, 2/2/2008

Columbia Gas to seek $5.64 monthly hike

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

If Columbia Gas of Ohio gets its way, it plans to increase its fee by an average of $5.64 a month for delivering natural gas to 173,000 northwest Ohio customers.

The utility said yesterday it will ask state regulators for approval for the $82.4 million increase that will jump customer bills by about $68 annually.

It would apply to 1.4 million customers Columbia Gas has in 60 of Ohio's 88 counties.

"There comes a point where you need to file a case," said Jack Partridge, Columbia Gas president.

For 14 years, the utility has maintained its 19,000 miles of pipe through cost cutting and patching, but "it's finally caught up with us from an investment standpoint," the Columbia executive said.

The increase is not related to the cost of natural gas or the usage by the customer, but is for maintenance.

The rate, which represents about 23 percent of a customer's monthly bill, had been frozen from 1994 through last year.

If approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, the billing boost could begin as early as Nov. 1.

It would affect all customers served by their pipelines regardless of whether the person buys natural gas from Columbia Gas or alternate suppliers.

The rate increase will be filed with the commission on March 3.

About 4,000 miles of pipe are bare steel or cast iron that was laid prior to World War II, and incidents of leaks are creeping up, Mr. Patridge said.

The utility said it would use the money from the increase to pay for a 25-year effort to replace the pipes and 350,000 steel service lines.

Repairs will include a $1.4 million project this summer to replace 12,000 feet of pipe at South and Ogden Avenues near Highland Park in Toledo.

It also would fund a joint program with the Ohio Consumers' Counsel to help customers cut their gas usage and would install 380,000 automatic meter reading devices on indoor meters in its territory.

A spokesman for the Consumers' Counsel office said it cannot comment until the rate request is filed.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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