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Natural gas prices on the rise

Cold temperatures in Ohio this winter have meant sticker shock for Ohio residents who pay for natural gas.

Monday, January 15, 2001

Cold temperatures in Ohio this winter have meant sticker shock for Ohio residents who pay for natural gas.

Columbia Gas spokesman Steve Jablonski said that the increase in gas prices is due to two factors.

First, because consumers used more gas to heat their homes in November and December; and second, because the price of gas commodities raised after supply couldn’t keep up with the demand, Jablonski said.

"It’s a double whammy for the consumer," he said. "The prices for the commodities were already high, and then they raised more when consumers started using more gas."

The current rate for gas is $.73 per cubic feet. Jablonski said that the price will increase to $.86 during February.

Some residents have been shocked at the high prices, especially those for whom heat is essential.

"I haven’t gotten my gas bill this month," said Norma Fisher, a senior citizen who lives on County Road 1 in Lawrence County. "I’m on low-income help, and it has still been high."

Mattie McCreedy of Buffalo Creek Road in South Point agreed.

"I’m just dreading it when I get my bill. A few years ago I switched my home from electric to gas because electricity was so expensive. Now I’m wishing I hadn’t."

Folks on fixed incomes aren’t the only ones who feel the pinch of a high electric bill. In Columbus, state lawmaker Kirk Schuring is sponsoring a measure that asks the House and Senate to form a committee to examine the natural gas industry.

Schuring said that he sponsored the measure after hearing from constituents and receiving his own gas bill.

Jablonski said that he expects the committee will find out exactly what the gas companies have already been saying.

"Any investigation would show that this is a matter of supply and demand," Jablonski said. "Gas bills reflect the price of commodities. When the gas companies have to pay more for natural gas commodities, they pass that on to the consumer. Sometimes that is less, but sometimes that is more. "

Joblonski said that there are several programs that consumers can look into for relief from their high gas bills. Two that are sponsored through the government are the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Both programs are designed to provide funds for consumers who have trouble paying their heating bills.

For information on each of these programs, contact Vicki Mroczk at 1-800-282-0880.

Joblonski said that Columbia Gas itself sponsors two programs to help consumers.

One of these is Warm Choice. Warm Choice is a weatherizing program for low income families in which Columbia Gas works with the state to energy audit homes and improve weather stripping, insulation and otherwise make a home more weather efficient.

A second program is called Heat Share. In the program, customers of the gas company can donate funds, which the company will match, to help those less fortunate pay their bills. The money is administered through the Salvation Army.

For more information on these programs, visit Columbia Gas’ Web site at www.columbiagasohio.com/needs.html