(01/18/2001)
West Virginia's natural gas utilities are beginning to join the nation in rate hikes as a price freeze ends in November and December, 2001. Natural gas rates in some states are going up by 100% and "easy times" for consumers will be over, the freeze agreements with the PSC now ending.

Allegheny Power, owner of Mountaineer Gas, has petitioned the PSC for a 39% increase for its 200,000 customers. The increase will allow an average customer's bill to increase from $84 to $121. Dominion Hope, which now owns the old Hope Gas and Consolidated Natural gas, intends to file for increases.

Allen Staggers, a spokesperson for the company, said there is no easy way to tell people they are going to pay more for natural gas. "Natural gas prices have tripled since the beginning of 2000," he said.

"It is something that will change a lot of budgets," said Don Donovan, a spokesperson for Dominion in Pittsburgh. Schools, businesses and large government buildings will feel the crunch.

The $10 mcf gas price is a boom for producers. Dominion will spend $20 million in Appalachia this year, mostly on drilling.

Dramatic increases in energy prices poses a serious blow to rural Appalachian counties whose aging citizens operate on a fixed income, have incomes well below the poverty level and few job opportunities.


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