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Gas rates: Equitable, Peoples will fall, Columbia will rise

| Monday, Dec. 31, 2012, 10:26 p.m.

Customers of Equitable Gas Co. and Peoples Natural Gas Co., two of the region's major natural gas utilities, will pay lower heating bills for the next three months than they did during the same period last year. Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania's rates, however, will rise.

The three companies are adjusting their rates to reflect what they paid suppliers over the past three months, and what they expect to pay through March.

Columbia spokeswoman Rachel Ford said an average residential customer's bill will rise about 5 percent to $75.71, based on the wholesale price the company pays for gas.

The utility switched how it measures gas in February, so the first-quarter 2013 rate of 54 cents per therm can't be directly compared with the early 2012 rate of 52 cents per hundred cubic feet of gas.

Equitable spokesman Scott Waitlevertch said warm weather and an abundant supply of the fuel have kept that utility's prices low.

“That's a good thing for consumers,” he said. Equitable Gas, the utility subsidiary of EQT Corp., will charge $6.05 per thousand cubic feet, or mcf, of gas, which is 22 cents less than its first-quarter 2012 rate.

The National Weather Service said December's mean temperature for the Pittsburgh area was about 6.1 degrees warmer than normal. October was slightly warmer than usual, while November was 3.3 degrees colder.

Peoples' new rate is $4.62 per mcf, or 54 cents less than in January 2012.

Joe Gregorini, vice president of rates and regulatory affairs for Peoples, said the new bill total includes a 6 percent increase in non-gas charges, which took effect in October to pay to replace 49 miles of cast-iron pipe. The lines were the oldest part of Peoples' distribution system for its 359,000 customers.

“It was our at-risk pipe,” Gregorini said. “We got it all done.”

Peoples announced Dec. 20 it has a deal to buy Equitable Gas for $720 million, a move that would make it the state's largest gas utility.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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