Reporting Paul Martino
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – With Marcellus Shale drilling rigs dotting our region, the price of natural gas has dropped to a ten-year low.
So many want to know why Colombia Gas is seeking a more than 23 percent rate hike.
They have drilled so much natural gas in our region that companies have actually cut back drilling.
There is an abundance of natural gas.
“I’d like to see rates come down,” Columbia Gas customer Kate McGrady said. “If natural gas is more plentiful, then we should pay less. It just seems to me that, that’s the way it works.”
Even so, Columbia Gas — which has more than 400,000 customers in Pennsylvania, mostly in our area — is seeking a huge rate hike of 23.4 percent.
An average customer’s bill will rise from $67 to $83 per month.
“I feel like we’re paying a lot already,” said Michelle Urresta, who’s also a Columbia Gas customer. “No, I don’t agree with it at all.”
“It’s unconscionable in these times,” another Columbia Gas customer, Rose Marie Mazza, said.
So why such a big increase?
Columbia gas says it needs to raise rates to collect some of the hundreds of millions of dollars they’ve invested over the past five years on projects like one that’s in operation in Mount Lebanon.
They’re repairing and replacing aging underground gas lines.
The gas company says it’s replaced $400 million worth of pipeline the past five years. And they’ll spend more than a $100 million on new pipeline this year.
“I do think we need the infrastructure taken care of,” Mazza said. “It’s vital to the area.”
But when asked if that justifies the increase in cost, Mazza said, “I just feel like it’s too much, like we pay too much for it.”
And Columbia is not alone.
Equitable is seeking a 71-cent-per-month surcharge to purchase and upgrade two pipeline systems.
Peoples Natural Gas already got a 13 percent rate increase to pay for its pipeline repairs.
The hikes follow a new state law that allows utility companies to recover infrastructure costs through rate hikes.