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Hope Gas seeks rate increase

by Troy Graham


(Tuesday, July 7) Rates for Hope Gas customers will increase by slightly more than 5 percent if the state Public Service Commission approves a deal presented at a hearing Monday in Charleston, said a commission spokesman.

Hope had asked for a $14.5 million, or a 13.8 percent, increase in its rates. David Dewey, an attorney for Hope, told the commission Monday that the company had agreed to raise its rates by $6.5 million, or 40 cents per million cubic feet of gas used, said Bob Teets, the commission spokesman.

The increase will raise the average gas bill between $2 and $4, depending on how much gas a customer uses.

Hope will also agree to a three-year rate freeze if the deal is approved, Teets said.

The commission will meet again on Thursday to vote on the proposal, and last-minute changes are still possible, Teets said.

"Several attorneys told me the ink isn't dry, so I suppose these points are still negotiable," he said.

Hope phased in its last rate hike, 35 cents per million cubic feet, over the last three years, Teets said. Hope could phase in this latest proposed hike over the next three years, he said.

The proposed increase has drawn the ire of some residents, including a group of senior citizens in Morgantown led by 92-year-old Milt Cohen.

The retired lawyer and engineer has been an outspoken opponent of any rate hike, saying that West Virginians pay more for gas than customers in similar-sized states.

Cohen attended the hearing Monday with the group from Morgantown and attacked the rate hike, Teets said.

"This is America and anybody can say anything they want, and he did," Teets said.

Cohen also opposed rate hikes three years ago, when Hope and Mountaineer Gas entered into a first-of-its-kind deal to freeze their rates.

"We saved all these customers millions of dollars these last three years," Cohen said.

The companies are also happy with the rate freeze because it enables them to accurately project revenue, allowing them to play the volatile gas market and buy gas at the lowest prices. It also encourages greater efficiency, company officials said.

The current rate freeze expires on Nov. 1.

The proposal also contains a provision to create a customer advisory committee, Teets said.

No details, such as how committee members would be chosen, were released Monday, he said.

Hope Gas serves about 112,560 customers in 32 counties, including Barbour, Braxton, Doddridge, Gilmer, Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Ritchie, Taylor, Tucker and Upshur in the north central region of West Virginia.