The offer would be available in about 17,800 households.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- In an effort to keep natural gas prices from heating up when the weather cools down, township officials have entered into an agreement with Shell Energy that would lock gas prices in for one year.
An agreement between the company and the township means that residents and small business owners here can now opt for Shell Energy service, in addition to the eight other private natural gas providers in the area.
A total rate for Dominion East Ohio public utility service is now $8.06 per 1,000 cubic feet of gas. Because public utility gas prices change every three months, that number is subject to change in November. Shell plans to offer a total rate of $7.90, said Shell's Ohio marketing manager Julie Short. Shell has promised to keep rates fixed for one year.
The township pays Shell a fee of about $10,000, said township board chairman Jeffrey J. Groat. As a result, households choosing to join benefit from a group rate. The offer would be available in about 17,800 township households.
The average homeowner uses about 135,000 cubic feet of gas each year, Short said. Under the Shell plan, an average user would pay about $1,067 for natural gas over the year starting in October.
Sheltered: Groat said the agreement with Shell means residents who opt for the service are sheltered from changing gas prices. He said he hopes surrounding communities follow Austintown's lead to bring more economical gas suppliers into communities.
"We felt we were offering such an innovative program to our residents," Groat said. "... If you can take uncertainty away, with the great fluctuations in the economy, we feel we've done our job."
Last winter, Short said, consumers saw high jumps in public utility bills as gas prices fluctuated.
"Our price is guaranteed through the winter and it's not going to change," said Short. "This is an opportunity to lock in a price so they can have more control over their gas bill."
Switch urged: Dominion East Ohio encourages customers to switch from using gas provided by the public utility company to using gas from a private company supplier, said Dan Donovan, manager of media relations.
Dominion East Ohio earns money by transporting gas to houses, not by selling the gas itself, he said. Regardless of where a customer gets gas from, Dominion East Ohio will continue to transport it.
Dominion East Ohio does buy gas for customers who request it; however, Donovan said, the company makes no profit on the gas itself. About 60 percent of customers in Northeast Ohio still receive gas this way.
The remaining 40 percent get gas from other, private suppliers. Residents can opt in to community plans, like the one proposed in Austintown, or shop individually for another provider.
No contract: Short said the Shell Energy plan in Austintown requires no contract and charges residents no sign-up or cancellation fees. Residents should receive plan information by mail within the next two weeks and will have until Sept. 10 to decide if they want to make a switch to Shell Energy.
Those who switch would begin receiving Shell Energy gas service during their October cycles. The $7.90 rate would remain locked in through September 2002 cycles. Transportation and billing would still be provided through the Dominion East Ohio public utility company.