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Published: Wednesday, 8/11/2004

Monroe residents will see natural gas price rise

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - The state regulatory agency that sets the price consumers pay for natural gas will be coming to Monroe next month with a depressing message: Horde those dollars, because much bigger bills are coming.

Per-unit prices for natural gas in Michigan have risen dramatically over the last year. In the Aquila service area, which encompasses most of Monroe County, prices this month are more than 50 percent higher than they were at this time a year ago, according to figures provided by the Michigan Public Service Commission, which regulates the industry.

"We were predicting it would be going up by a third, but it did increase dramatically," said Judy Palnau, a spokeswoman for the MPSC. "[The commissioners] have not taken action, but they are concerned about continuing high gas prices."

The commission's local forum will be held Sept. 21 in Monroe City Council Chambers, Ms. Palnau said, and will be one of seven being held statewide to help alert consumers as to the financial misery on the horizon.

To make matters worse, the amount of federal and state funds that have been available to help the neediest get through the winter has decreased.

"We never know from one year to the next what we're going to get," said Marcie Giraud, administrator of housing and planning at the Monroe County Opportunity Program. "We don't have any [utility assistance money] currently, but we will get some."

Ms. Giraud said her agency, which coordinates local heating assistance among the elderly and indigent, distributes the the winter has decreased.

"We never know from one year to the next what we're going to get," said Marcie Giraud, administrator of housing and planning at the Monroe County Opportunity Program.

"We don't have any [utility assistance money] currently, but we will get some."

Ms. Giraud said her agency, which coordinates local heating assistance among the elderly and indigent, distributes the money that it receives through the colder months almost immediately.

"We don't keep waiting lists for utility assistance," she said. The agency has access to community action assistance that comes from the state to help the indigent, as well as private donations that come in through The Heat and Warmth fund that are collected by the utilities.

Because of the severe stresses that the previous heating season put on opportunity program organizers, the agency has moved its annual Walk for Warmth fund-raiser this year from March to November.

Ms. Giraud said she hopes that having the fund-raiser at the start of the heating season, as people are beginning to think about how they will pay their own utility bills, will help increase the annual average of $5,000 that the event has raised in previous years.

"One hundred percent of that money goes toward utility help. There's no administration fees at all," Ms. Giraud said.



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