TRUMBULL COUNTY Official seeks way to help with bills

Natural-gas companies have blamed colder than normal temperatures and a natural-gas shortage.
WARREN -- A Trumbull County commissioner is looking into whether the county can offer some relief from soaring natural-gas bills.
James G. Tsagaris said he is researching to determine if the county may buy gas in bulk and advertise for bids from companies who would sell the gas to customers.
"People have been calling up, talking about how high their bills are," Tsagaris said, adding that the county's involvement may bring a lower price.
"Municipalities can do that, but we don't know whether counties can," he said.
A friend of Tsagaris', who is a Columbus attorney, is looking into the matter as a favor to Tsagaris, he said.
Tsagaris said the research is in response to customers' complaints about natural-gas bills that have as much as doubled in recent months. Area gas companies have contended that the increased costs reflect what they must pay to buy gas their customers.
They blame a winter colder than those of recent years combined with high demand and a natural-gas shortage for the increase.
Comment from PUCO: Beth Gianforcaro, a spokeswoman for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in Columbus, said she doesn't know of any counties that buy natural gas for resale to residents. But new legislation before the state House of Representatives would allow communities to buy natural gas in bulk.
"It's possible you would see some communities taking an interest in that should it pass the way it's currently written," she said.
The legislation, House Bill 9, was introduced Jan. 30 by state Rep. Arlene Setzer, R-40, of Brookville.
The legislation would allow governmental entities to act as aggregators of natural gas similar to the way they can buy electricity in bulk.
"It's very similar to the electricity restructuring legislation," Gianforcaro said.
A spokeswoman for Setzer said the bill, upon which hearings were conducted last week, may undergo significant changes before passage.

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