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PSNC Rate Change Charges More for Using Less Gas

Posted December 6, 2006

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— If a PSNC customer uses less than a specified amount of natural gas in the summer, they would pay more in the winter.

Customers can see where they stand by looking for the words "Standard Rate 110" on their bills. Standard is the higher rate that will cost the average family about $12 more a month during colder months.

"Value" is the lower rate for customers who use enough natural gas during the summer. It's a rate structure used in other parts of the utilities industry, but that seems to fly in the face of conservation.

In the winter, gas furnaces start cranking and heating costs make up the bulk of gas bills. During the summer, natural gas usage goes down. Under the new rate structure, PSNC Energy warns that if customers don't use at least 24 therms, or energy units, during the warmest months, they would be billed under the standard rate in the winter.

"Seems to be a Catch 22 for them to want you use more fuel in the summertime to save money in the wintertime," customer Rob Bruening said. "Doesn't make a tremendous amount of sense."

When asked if the new structure encourages people to use more energy rather than conserving, PSNC spokesperson Angie Townsend said, "We want our customers to manage their energy use wisely."

Townsend said that so far, only 25 percent of the company's 380,000 residential customers don't qualify for the value rate. Many of those residences don't have gas water heaters or stoves, which would get plenty of summer usage.

"We do want folks to consider natural gas for their everyday use," Townsend said.

PSNC's Web site offers tips on ways to meet the minimum usage and get the lower rate. It suggests that homeowners enjoy the benefits of cooking on natural gas by using a gas fire pit or gaslights, or by replacing electric or other water heaters with gas models.

Townsend said that the rate changes are not about selling more gas, but about fairness and spreading the burden of paying for the system to part-time users.

"Up until now, the year-round customers were carrying the load of the costs of operating our system," she said.

Late Wednesday, WRAL asked Utilities Commissioner Howard Lee to comment. The commission approved the change, but he said he didn't have enough information to discuss it. So far, PSNC said the company hasn't received many complaints about the new rate structure.
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