Columbia Gas increases rates 49 percent

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 29, 2005

COLUMBUS (AP) — Blaming Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and cold weather, Columbia Gas of Ohio said heating bills in January will be 49 percent higher than they were a year ago.

The average residential bill will be $315.90, up from $212.66, the company said.

The January natural gas price will be $1.57 per 100 cubic feet, according to the company’s Friday filing with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. The cost was 99 cents for January this year and is $1.29 this month.

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Energy Secretary Sam Bodman said last week that about a third of the oil and natural gas production in the Gulf Coast remains shut down because of damage caused by the hurricanes. He said production probably will not recover until next summer.

Natural gas consumption normally peaks in January, said Steve Jablonski, spokesman for Columbia Gas.

Jablonski said unusually cold weather later in the season could throw that trend off and send bills higher if customers crank up their thermostats.

‘‘It’s hard to predict whether the trend toward higher prices will continue,’’ he said.

Gov. Bob Taft released $75 million dollars in unspent federal welfare money in October to help low-income Ohioans pay their bills.