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Published: Wednesday, 2/29/2012

Columbia Gas to cut budget-plan bills

Utility cites low prices, warm weather

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS REPORTER

Columbia Gas of Ohio Inc. said Tuesday it will cut by 35 percent the monthly bills of more than two-thirds of the customers on its budget payment plan because of lower natural gas prices and warmer weather.

About 250,000 of the company's 366,000 customers on the budget plan will see an average $29 reduction, to $53 a month from $82 a month. About 3,000 customers will see a slight increase, presumably because of increases in gas use, and the remaining 113,000 will see no change, the utility said.

In Toledo, approximately 43,300 customers are on the budget plan and about 32,000 will see monthly decreases, the company said.

Chris Kozak, a Columbia Gas spokesman, said budget plans are frequently adjusted depending on weather, prices, consumption, and other factors. But Mr. Kozak said the utility has never made a downward reduction this steep.

"It's highly unlikely for it to be this large and this wide," he said.

The budget plan was devised to spread natural gas costs evenly over 12 months. Customers sign up in advance, and monthly bills are based on historical gas-use patterns, the projected cost of gas on the wholesale market, and the current rates for service and delivery.

Columbia Gas said the winter has been much warmer than normal and natural gas availability is at historic highs, which has caused prices to drop to their lowest in a decade.

On Monday, the utility set its customer rate for March at 43 cents per 100 cubic feet, a decrease of 14 cents from a year ago and the second-lowest rate Columbia Gas has offered since October, 1999. It was based on the natural-gas commodity closing price of $2.40 per million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The utility has about 1.4 million customers spread over 61 of Ohio's 88 counties.



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