Cumberland Times-News

August 16, 2013

Columbia Gas files to add surcharge to bills

Office of People’s Counsel asks for a temporary dismissal

Matthew Bieniek
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Almost at the same time a public utility law judge issued a proposed order that would grant a rate increase to Columbia Gas, the company has filed to add a surcharge to gas bills to pay for infrastructure replacement.

The Office of People’s Counsel, which represents consumers, has asked for the temporary dismissal of the company’s request.

Columbia Gas attorneys say the surcharge is needed to replace aging pipes and have submitted a planned schedule of improvements in Allegany, Garrett and Washington counties.

Most of the focus of the program will be replacing old cast iron and bare steel pipe, according to company filings with the PSC.

Many of the old pipes are leaking, Columbia said in its PSC filings.

The pipes will be replaced by plastics and more other modern materials.

“The public will receive better service, with fewer interruptions,” Columbia’s attorneys wrote in their PSC filings.

The company is taking advantage of a 2013 law signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley allowing such surcharges.

The surcharge for residential customers is limited to no more than $2 a month, while non-residential customers will have increased charges at higher levels depending on how much they use, according to Columbia Gas filings with the Maryland Public Service Commission.

The annual surcharge for non-residential customers using than 20,920 therms will be $79.44 while those using more than 523,000 will have therms will have a $6,326.52 annual bill.

A therm is 100 cubic feet of gas.

The gas company has 33,000 residential and industrial customers in the three counties.

This year’s projects are projected to cost the company $4.32 million and planned 2014 projects are set to cost $3.36 million, Columbia’s attorney’s said.

A 2014 project planned for one neighborhood in Cumberland will cost more than $500,000 alone, to replace more than 3,500 feet of pipe.

The Office of People’s Counsel says they need more time to respond and have lost time during the application process because Columbia did not file written testimony in support of the request immediately.

“The interests of residential customers will be adversely affected if those customers’ legal representatives are required to lose 30 days in an already tight schedule,” the motion filed by the office reads.

The office is asking the judge in the case to dismiss Columbia’s request without prejudice, which would allow Columbia to re-file the request. 

In the alternative, the Office of People’s Counsel is asking for the suspension period of the surcharge to be lengthened to allow more time for a response.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.