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DOMINION EAST OHIO PUCO considers proposal to aid natural gas customers

Wednesday, October 24, 2001

About 70,000 customers have had service shut off or got shutoff notices.
COLUMBUS -- Dominion East Ohio customers whose natural gas service is either shut off or about to be shut off because of overdue bills could receive payment assistance from the company under a proposal being considered by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
The company wanted to use $100 million in excess charges from customers in the 1990s to help fund the matching program. The PUCO, in an order it could finalize as early as today, broadened that to provide more help to low-income customers.
The company says it's ready to put the plan in place.
"We feel comfortable with it," said Bruce C. Klink, a vice president. "We're going to make this happen."
Excess funding: The payment-matching program would be paid for from excess funding of the company's depreciation reserve account, money taken from base rates that goes to pay for items such as pipeline replacement.
Neil Durbin, a Dominion East Ohio spokesman, said Tuesday that about 70,000 of the company's 1.2 million customers have either had their service shut off or have received shutoff notices.
Under the proposal, Dominion proposes to match up to $500 per customer, the first payment made between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31 if the customer gets on a payment plan for back payments and pays a reconnection fee.
The company wants to use any money left over from the payment-matching plan to cover debts owed to it.
Reconnection charge: PUCO chairman Alan Schriber proposed broadening the program to cover the $175 reconnection fee, which could assist lower-income customers.
The Ohio Consumers Counsel objected to the plan, saying the money used to pay the matches was generated from all customers and should be returned to all customers.
The counsel suggested a $90 credit to all.
The council's Jennifer Heston declined to comment on the changes the PUCO made to the until she sees the final order.
David C. Rinebolt, executive director of Ohio Partners for Affordable Energy, another consumer advocacy group, said he's pleased with the changes the commission proposed.
Dominion Ohio East serves several areas in northern, including portions of Mahoning, Trumbull, Wayne, Portage and Stark counties.