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As natural gas prices fall, W.Va. utility seeks hike

WHEELING, W.Va. — Even as industry leaders believe the large supply of natural gas in northern West Virginia contributes to lower selling prices on Wall Street, officials with Mountaineer Gas Co. plan to raise bills on 221,000 customers across the state.

Pending approval by the Public Service Commission of West Virginia, those heating homes or conducting commercial activity with Mountaineer Gas will see their bills increase by an average of 4.72 percent this year.

“We would expect that it would take effect by Nov. 1,” company spokesman Larry Meador said. “The public notice says Feb. 4, but it will never be finished by then.”

The public notice Mountaineer filed proposes the rates to increase Feb. 4, which is the date by which customers must protest the rate increase if they intend to do so.

Those who oppose the raise should address comments to: The Executive Secretary, Public Service Commission of West Virginia, P.O. Box 812, Charleston, WV 25323.

Meador said Mountaineer needs the rate increase to fund its basic operations, as he said this base rate increase has no connection to the current natural gas market. Natural gas prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange dipped below $3 per 1,000 cubic-foot unit recently, compared to about $5 per unit in May.

“This is a request for increasing our base rate, which is our cost of doing business. It is not related to the price of gas,” Meador said, adding the base rate covers employee salaries, repairs and maintenance.

According to Mountaineer’s filing, an average residential customer will see his or her monthly bill increase $3.46, while a typical commercial user will see monthly rates jump $11.66. An industrial consumer will see monthly prices increase by $26.92.

The company emphasizes these are only averages, as some will see larger increases while others do not feel as much impact. Meador said Mountaineer customers may see some price relief if the price the company pays for gas in November is lower than it paid in November 2014.

“A customer’s bill is based on the base rate, the cost of gas and the monthly customer charge,” Meador said. “If we get lower prices for the cost of gas this year, customers could see some savings there.”

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