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US: Natural gas rates going up 15 percent

Natural gas bills will increase in August by more than 15 percent for customers of both Columbia Gas of Ohio and The Energy Cooperative.

For comparison purposes Columbia Gas spokesperson Ray Frank said the average monthly bill for the residential customer this year will be $32.23 in the August through October period, up from $27.79 for the same period last year.

David Potter, president and chief executive officer of The Energy Cooperative, said "the average person is going to see a 15 percent-plus increase in their gas bill this winter," though the increase will take effect in August.

"People don't really use much gas until the cold weather hits so they won't see much of an impact until they started heating," he said.

High demand and short supply is the reason given for the increase, although both companies say local supplies will be adequate for the winter.

"One thing we do have going for us this winter is our storage supply situation is very strong and we'll be right on target when the winter begins with our supply inventories," Frank said. "Heretofore there's been a lot of speculation about not having storage inventories up to par in preparation for the winter. That's not going to be the case this year."

The problem is, those supplies had to be purchased at substantially higher prices.

"We're storing it this year for about $2 (per unit) more than we stored it at last year so it's a major increase, probably about 20 percent," Potter said.

Increases in supply costs have simply reached the point they must be passed along to consumers, said Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Granville-based Ohio Oil & Gas Association.

"It used to be utilities would buy gas in the summer and it would be very cheap, and they'd pound it into storage and rely upon that supply during peak demand during winter," Stewart said. "But now they're putting gas in storage at $6 when normally it was $2."

Translation: Look for more future increases and don't expect prices to roll back to past levels.

"People say we're going to run out of oil or natural gas," Stewart added. "I don't believe that's true. ... But I do believe we have run out of $20 oil and $3 natural gas."

Correspondent Drew Bracken can be reached at (740) 328-8821 or advocate@nncogannett.com.

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