By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
In a time of increasing natural gas prices, a rural pipeline company is asking the state Public Service Commission to approve a 7 percent increase in the cost of gas it sells to rural customers.
"We're trying to adjust our rate so we can begin charging as a charge to our customers what we paid for gas last year," said Havre Pipeline Co. general manager Don Fippinger of Oklahoma City, Okla.
Havre Pipeline Co. serves about 120 customers in rural north-central Montana, Fippinger said.
Commissioner Greg Jergeson of Chinook said the proposed rate, about $4.17 per 1,000 cubic feet, is lower than the rates of the major natural gas suppliers in Montana - Montana-Dakota Utilities, NorthWestern Energy and Western Montana Energy.
The PSC said NorthWestern Energy will be charging $5.77 per 1,000 cubic feet effective Wednesday, a 10-cent increase over its August rate.
Summertime prices paid by the energy companies more than doubled from 2002 to 2003, and this year they are paying up to three times as much as in 2002, Jergeson said.
"The markets have gone up considerably," Jergeson said. "Gas-fired power plants that have been put online all over the country have created a new and almost unexpected demand."
He said Havre Pipeline listed the increase of its cost as 7.14 percent. Under its tariff agreement, the pipeline can request the PSC to approve a rate increase on an annual basis if its costs increase 5 percent or more during the year.
The company will realize no extra profit from the increase, said Dave Burchett of the Utilities Division of the Public Service Commission.
Jergeson said MDU, NorthWestern and Western Montana Energy adjust their prices monthly, rather than yearly. The PSC reviews those increases on an annual basis and can order a refund if a company overcharges.
Those companies monitor the wholesale market, while Havre Pipeline bases its charge on what it pays to local producers, who are part-owners of Havre Pipeline.
The Havre Pipeline request is available at the PSC office in Helena, the Havre Pipeline office and at the Montana Consumer Counsel office in Helena. The Montana Consumer Counsel is available to assist and represent consumers in the matter, Jergeson said.
People may submit comments to the PSC about the proposed rate increase through the mail or at the PSC Web site. Comments are due by Sept. 14.
On the Net: http://psc.state.mt.us/Consumers/comments/