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Gas rate decision due by March 31

(Published March 10, 2003)

The D.C. Public Service Commission is expected to decide by the end of this month if it will reconsider its order that Washington Gas refund $7.5 million to its customers through a rate reduction.

A final decision in the case has been delayed four times since the gas company sought reconsideration last Nov. 7, the day before the ordered rate reduction was to take effect.

The commission blamed "unanticipated docket and scheduling changes caused by the recent severe weather conditions" for the most recent delay.

The commission last Oct. 29 agreed with the contention of the Office of the People’s Counsel, a public advocacy agency of the government, that Washington Gas was earning more than its authorized rate of return as a regulated utility.

In addition to ordering a refund, the commission’s order denied the gas company’s request for a $16.3 million rate increase and called the company’s proposal to increase several miscellaneous fees "unreasonable."

Even if the commission rejects the gas company’s request for reconsideration, a rate reduction could be short-lived. Washington Gas officials last month filed a new application with the Public Service Commission seeking a $14.1 million rate increase. The average monthly residential bill would go up by about 7.6 percent if the rate hike is approved, according to company officials. The application also proposes additional relief for low-income customers during colder than normal weather.

In announcing the rate increase request, Washington Gas officials said the application "does not reflect the effect of the revenue reduction" ordered last Oct. 29 by the commission.

Washington Gas Chairman and Chief Executive Officer James H. DeGraffenreidt, in a press release issued by the company, attributed the new rate request to the Public Service Commission’s failure "to include in rates the company’s costs incurred to serve District of Columbia customers."

The company’s base rates in the District were last increased in 1994. Washing-ton Gas delivers natural gas to approximately 960,000 customers in the Washington region, including about 150,000 residences and businesses in the District.

Copyright 2003, The Common Denominator