Dominion-Hope is holding public hearings on rate increases beginning today through the beginning of October, throughout the state. The company has recently amended its request from 52.9 percent to 37 percent.

The increase will affect some 115,00 customers in West Virginia. The company had asked the WV Public Service Commission for the 52.9 percent increase to take effect on April 5. The Public Service Commission suspended the date of the rate increase until January 1, 2002, pending the public hearings being held throughout the state, concluding October, 2001.

Hearing schedules are as follows.

Thursday, August 9, 1:30 p.m. Pleasants County, WV at the St. Marys Marina near Riverside Drive.

Thursday, August 9, in Parkersburg on the second floor of the Parkersburg Municipal Building.

August 16 and 23 in Flatwoods, Fairmont and Madison, WV.

A formal hearing will be held in October in Charleston with sworn testimony.

Bryon Harris, an economist for the Public Service Commission, Consumer Advocate Division, said on July 31 Dominion-Hope amended a portion of the rate request regarding projected gas costs based on future prices.

The amended rate request amounts to about $15.5 million less than the 52.9 percent originally requested. Still the 37 percent rate increase would cause a consumer with an average residential bill of about $98 to raise to about $135 a month. Under the 52.9 percent rate increase request, the average bill of about $98 would have risen to about $150.

Bob Fulton, media community relations manager for Dominion- Hope, said the costs that Dominion-Hope incurs in the purchase of natural gas are passed on to customers, and no profit is made.

"This is by order of the Public Service Commission. Two thirds of the increase request is just to purchase gas for the customer at no profit. The other one third is for operating costs, which includes operating the line, making improvements and the normal everyday operation of the company to keep gas flowing safely and reliably," said Fulton.

The total increase that Dominion-Hope is asking for is about $41.2 million with $13.7 million going toward the operating costs of the company.

Fulton said the company is always looking for ways to cut costs and run systems more efficiently. "We have streamlined operations. As a result of the recent merger, a lot of efficiencies were put into place. We are looking at processes and ways to do them more cost effectively," said Fulton.

Harris said the Public Service Commission has already received a stack of letters from the public on their opinions about the rate increase request.

"The public hearings are important in that the public can air their opinions on the record. It is also an opportunity to talk directly with the company about concerns," said Harris.

The Public Service Commission said the current rates of Dominion-Hope are higher than the rates Mountaineer Gas Company will charge after an approved 16 percent increase goes into effect. Mountaineer customers are mostly located in South Central West Virginia and the Northern and Eastern Panhandles.

Fulton said the company continues to monitor prices of natural gas. "When other states were experiencing high prices, the Dominion Hope customers were shielded from that because of the six years of moratoriums. So any increase they saw was due to consumption, not an increase in price," said Fulton.

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