PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — In television ads, Columbia Gas is telling customers about an upgrade in its natural gas pipelines across Pennsylvania.

According to one advertisement: “We’re upgrading hundreds of miles of our pipelines now so we can safely deliver your natural gas for generations to come. Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania — we appreciate your patience during our upgrades.”

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Left unmentioned is Columbia’s request to the Public Utility Commission for a 10.4 percent hike in their base rate bill.

“Base rates are the cost that we use to maintain and operate our system, so maintaining pipe, replacing pipe, reading meters — that’s what base rates are for,” Columbia spokeswoman Rachel Ford told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Wednesday.

In a notice to local customers, Columbia says this hike would raise over $54 million, which Ford says is needed to replace old corroded metal pipe with plastic pipe.

“This base rate case is all about safety. That’s our number one priority,” said Ford.

At the same time, Columbia is holding the line on the commodity price of natural gas itself.

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“We think the cost of natural gas is going to remain low and stable,” Ford said.

Customers of Peoples Gas and Equitable Gas, which Peoples just acquired, could see a three percent reduction in their commodity price.

“Our gas is a little bit cheaper than most gas companies because most of our gas is produced locally,” says Barry Kukovich of Peoples. “Seventy percent of our gas is produced locally. We don’t have to pay the rate for interstate pipeline shipping.”

Kukovich says Marcellus Shale drilling has brought down the price.

“Our typical ratepayer pays half of what they paid six years ago,” adds Kukovich.

But that’s the commodity price — not the base rate for pipe repairs — which explains why natural gas bills will fluctuate.

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