PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Complicated would be an understatement to describe the move made by Columbia Gas today to change to “Therm Billing.”

KDKA’s John Shumway reports that the best way to describe the change is like one gas station suddenly deciding that rather than charging you by the gallon, they instead charge you by “miles per gallon” and “miles driven.”

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Columbia is following the lead of many other energy companies across the country going to “Therm Billing.”

But, and this is an important but, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission in approving the change made it clear the billing change cannot mean the gas company charges its customers more.

Currently, we all pay for gas by the cubic foot – a quantity measurement. “Therm Billing” bills based on the energy you consume.

The reason Columbia is going to this system is that not all the gas it buys burns at the same heat. The hotter the gas burns the less you use.

Try to boil the same pot of water with the potent gas and the weaker gas, and the amount of gas used to achieve the same task is substantially different.

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By measuring with “Therm Billing” you wind up paying the same to boil your water regardless of the power of your gas.

Confused, you’re not alone. One person at a local gas company today was totally baffled by the concept and referred KDKA’s John Shumway to someone else.

Here is what you need to know: Columbia Gas made the change today, Equitable Gas is considering it, People’s Gas has rejected “Therm Billing” and will stay with the old system. Also, even if your gas company makes the switch, the PUC says you should not end up paying more.

That said, look at this from the Columbia Gas website’s Frequently Asked Questions:

“10. How much will my bill increase?”
“It is hard to say, for customers who have consistently been receiving gas with a lower energy content, the average customer’s bill may decrease by 1% – 2%. For customers who have consistently been receiving gas with higher energy content, the average customer’s bill may increase by 4% – 5%. Please keep in mind that there are other factors that influence increases or decreases in your bills, such as weather, quarterly gas costs, thermostat settings, insulation measures in your home or business or the condition of appliances and buildings. It’s also important to keep in mind that the BTU value in your area will be updated every month. So if you receive gas with higher energy content, your bill may slightly increase one month, but not the next.”

The bottom line, check your bill carefully, and if you think a mistake has been made, immediately call your gas company’s customer service.

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