ZANESVILLE, Ohio – On Wednesday, June 15th, a public hearing was held regarding a Columbia Gas rate increase proposal.
The hearing was held in the Zanesville City Council Chambers and provided space for local members to come forward and testify regarding the potential of a rate increase in Natural Gas prices within the coming years. These testimonies will be considered in the final deliberation of the proposal.
Columbia gas submitted the original proposal in June of 2021, requesting a 27% increase in consumers’ monthly bills for natural gas distribution services. This would result in a 212 million dollar annual revenue increase for Columbia Gas. Both the Public Utilities Commission and the Ohio Consumer Council provided alternative options to this price hike to relieve the potential financial burden on natural gas users in the State of Ohio.
J.P. Blackwood, a spokesperson for the Ohio Consumer Council, was in attendance at the meeting and emphasized that the component of the proposal that has the most potential impact on natural gas consumers is the fixed rates.
“We think one of the difficult parts of this particular proposal is that Columbia is asking for so much of the proposal to be in the fixed rates. They are asking for the fixed portion of your bill – and that’s the portion of the consumer’s bill they pay before they use any natural gas at all – to go from about $16.75 to about $46.”
Mayor Don Mason testified at the hearing, expressing concerns pertaining to the price increases’ effect on lower-income communities struggling with high poverty. Mason specifically addressed the difference in poverty rates, informing the council that while Ohio’s poverty rate is 13 percent, the city of Zanesville’s rate is 30.1%. Mayor Mason additionally mentioned his former role as Commissioner of the Public Utilities Commission and how his knowledge of energy expenditures enhanced his knowledge on the topic and his credibility.
In addition to Mayor Mason’s comments, multiple disabilities advocates shared how this change would affect families in southeastern Ohio that already struggle to afford the cost of living. Members from Developmental Disabilities and United Way of Muskingum, Perry, and Morgan counties spoke against the proposal, addressing their concerns regarding the already climbing housing market contingent upon accessible housing for disabled persons.
The Columbus Chamber of Commerce also attended the meeting, going against the majority of testimonies and speaking in approval of the price hike. Don DePerro, president of the Columbus Chamber, stated the importance of implementing modernized infrastructure in Ohio – claiming that the increase will better enable Columbia Gas to provide greater energy efficiency and reliability of service. The Columbus Chamber of Commerce believes that this change will create new jobs in the community, allowing Columbia Gas to grow alongside Ohio’s growing population.
Blackwood articulated the Ohio Consumer Council’s concern regarding the timing of the price spike.
“We’re coming out of the pandemic – hopefully – but people are still suffering from the effects of the pandemic. We think it’s a terrible time for such a large rate increase.”
The Public Utilities Commission will hold its final proposal hearing on July 13th, 2022.
Ohio residents can still provide commentary to the Commission through a link on their website. All official comments will also be filed as testimony presented to the Public Utilities Commission for consideration.