Utility commission gives OK for natural gas rate hike

Despite 1,865 signatures from local residents petitioning the Public Utility Commission to not hike rates for natural gas customers this winter, the PUC gave the okay to local natural gas provider Dominion Peoples’ request to increase rates to $7.88 per thousand cubic feet, equaling to a 40 percent increase.
The decision to give Dominion Peoples the OK for the hike came just before a special public hearing on Thursday afternoon to review current natural gas prices, and to discuss the forecasted supply and demand, programs to help consumers, and ways to increase consumer awareness related to gas prices for this winter.
The proposed increase was from $5.22 per thousand cubic feet in late 2002 to the projected costs for October 2003, which is computed to $7.88.
This means the company will collect an additional $16 million from customers.
According to a Dominion spokesperson, the company undercharged for gas pricing from 1999-2000.
“I really feel sorry for all those people who signed that petition,” said Tyrone resident William Fink, the driving person behind the petition.
“I understand the decision to raise the rates was made even before the public hearing that was scheduled for Thursday. What does that really say?”
According to Fink, the petition was hand-delivered by state Rep. Jerry Stern to not only the secretary of the PUC, but also to Governor Ed Rendell.
“I wonder if that document was ever presented to the PUC commissioner’s,” he said.
“They are a ‘Public’ utility commission, meaning they work for us, the people. I feel that that petition was testimony and testimony from 1,865 people who didn’t want to see a rate hike. What good did it do these people if they never even saw it?”
The PUC was contacted by The Daily Herald earlier Friday, but as of late Friday afternoon, it had not returned phone calls.
According to Fink, the gas company is gouging residents.
“When I spoke with them (Dominion’s People) at Rep. Stern’s office, they told me they had to buy the gas elsewhere and that’s the reasons for the need to increase the rates,” said Fink. “I just find that hard to believe. There’s plenty of natural gas sources here, but the wells are capped. They tell me there’s not enough in them, but that has to be wrong.”
Fink said this kind of activity by public commissions is exactly why people don’t get involved in these situations.
“When they do get involved, their opinions mean nothing,” he said. “I’m not happy about this at all.”
Fink said he is most concerned with the elderly population who count on natural gas for survival. He said because most are on fixed incomes, the approved hike may cause people who have to pay high prescription costs and high medical bills to not be able to afford their heating bills.
“I just can’t believe the people didn’t rally around this,” said Tyrone Borough Council candidate Dan Meckes, who phoned The Daily Herald yesterday to say that less than 100 people called the PUC to voice their outrage over the proposal.
In The Daily Herald’s Letters to the Editor section over the last few weeks, both Meckes and Fink have pleaded with residents to phone PUC and their local, state and federal representatives to make a statement against the proposed hike.
“There should have been more support from the people,” Meckes said.