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Columbia Gas of Ohio reaches preliminary agreement for rate raise in 2023

A Columbus Gas sign on West Nationwide Boulevard in Columbus.
Eye on Ohio
A Columbus Gas sign on West Nationwide Boulevard in Columbus.

After months of negotiations, Columbia Gas of Ohio reached a preliminary compromise with some state regulators and some consumer advocates to raise its rates.

Columbia Gas asked the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in June 2021 to increase its fees to generate an additional $212 million each year from Ohio customers. This proposal would generate less than that, at $68 million, but more than a report from state regulators and consumer advocates suggested.

A staff report from regulators at the PUCO argued that should be limited to about $60 million and consumer advocates at the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel argued for just $10 million.

The consumers' counsel, the PUCO staff and advocates for retail and industrial natural gas users are among the supporters of the agreement.

Columbia Gas said if the agreement is passed, it would raise bills by a little less than $4 a month for a typical customer.

"This stipulation benefits Columbia’s ratepayers and is in the public interest by bringing a compromised resolution to this proceeding with a majority of the parties. Pending PUCO approval, a typical residential customer’s bill will increase by $3.76 per month," according to a statement from the company.

Critics of the deal at the Environmental Law and Policy Center state the agreement would also saddle customers with too many fixed fees, leading to fixed rate charges of $56 a month, five years into the agreement. The company's residential customers now pay about $36 in fixed fees, monthly.

The original proposal from Columbia called for initial fixed monthly rates to rise to about $46, increasing to about $80 over five years.

The consumers counsel states the deal will cost customers $24.09 a month less than Columbia Gas' original proposal.

Organizations opposed to the agreement will get the chance to file objections with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio before a hearing mid-November.

The state's utility commissioners are expected to determine if the deal should be implemented following that hearing.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center is also concerned the agreement cuts energy efficiency programs.

But, the OCC states, the elimination of Columbia's energy efficiency program for customers who are not considered low income, will lead to savings of about $110 million over five years as the charges are ended.

In the deal, Columbia Gas would also provide a "convenient online way for consumers to stop Columbia from sharing their personal contact information with energy marketers," according to the OCC.

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. Fox joined the WOSU newsroom from the Tribune Chronicle/Vindicator in the Youngstown area, where she’d been a reporter since 2014. Contact Renee at renee.fox@wosu.org.