By Bob Weaver

The Public Service Commission freeze is ending and Dominion Hope, the old Hope Gas Company which sold its assets, is asking for a whopping 53% natural gas increase for their 115,000 customers in West Virginia. Billy Jack Gregg, head of the Consumer Advocate Division for the PSC said "It is pretty astounding."

The increases will dramatically affect heating costs in poor West Virginia counties where much of the gas has been produced during the past 100 years.

While public hearings will be held this summer, the new rates will likely become effective on January 1, 2002. Two-thirds of the $56 million being asked would go for the costs of natural gas, which have doubled in the past three years.

Mountaineer Gas, operating as Allegheny Power, has asked for a 39% increase and other suppliers will likely follow suit.

The PSC has expressed concerns that Dominion/Hope have not tried to control operational costs.

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