HOME-HEATING BILLS Dominion East Ohio raises gas rates 17 percent

Average monthly bills will be 45 percent higher than a year ago.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Turning on the furnace in October just got more expensive for many area residents.
Dominion East Ohio filed a rate increase Tuesday that will raise prices by 17 percent starting Oct. 4.
It is the latest in a series of increases which will push up the company's average bill to $106 a month by October, which is 45 percent higher than the average bill of $73 in October 2004.
The utility has been forced to raise user rates monthly because wholesale prices have risen, said Neil Durbin, a company spokesman. Wholesale prices have doubled in the past five years and are expected to remain high, he said.
Here's why
The basic problem is that supply isn't keeping up with demand in the United States, he said. Current supply areas aren't producing as much gas as they used to, and new drilling areas have been placed off limits by federal officials, he said.
Meanwhile, demand is increasing, partly because more electricity plants are being powered by natural gas.
Recently, the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico also has forced up prices, Durbin said. Drilling platforms and facilities that send gas to pipelines were damaged, although not as severely as first feared, he added.
The rate increase filed with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio affects Dominion's gas cost recovery rate, which is charged to its customers who haven't chosen other suppliers.
The rate, which is calculated per thousand cubic feet, is increasing from $11.30 to $13.22. In October 2004, the rate was $8.35, or 58 percent lower than it will be this October.
The gas cost recovery represents about two-thirds of a customer's bill, with the rest being charges to deliver the gas.
Dominion encourages its customers to consider switching to other suppliers. The company makes its profits from delivering gas, not selling it.
Other rates
Nine other suppliers are offering plans in the utility's territory. The lowest variable rate plan is $10.40, which is offered by Shell Energy Services. Shell also is offering the lowest fixed-rate plan at $12.50 for either a one-year or two-year commitment.
The PUCO updates its list of suppliers every other week. Information is available at www.puco.ohio.gov or by calling (800) 686-7826.
Last week, Columbia Gas of Ohio, which also serves the Mahoning Valley, announced its own rate increase for October. It is raising prices by 16 percent from $11.40 per thousand cubic feet to $13.20.

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