Columbia Gas of Massachusetts Files Rate-hike Request
WESTBOROUGH — Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, a subsidiary of NiSource Inc., filed a petition with the Mass. Department of Public Utilities (DPU) last week to increase annual revenues by $49.3 million, representing a 9.86% increase in total operating revenues. The filing marks the beginning of the public process of rate setting for a utility, as required by the DPU. Evidentiary hearings on the filing will be held within the next several months. If approved by the DPU, the change would impact the annual gas bill for a typical residential heating customer by an average of $8.50 per month, or 7.5%, beginning March 1, 2016. The requested increase is necessary, said company officials, due to Columbia Gas of Massachusetts’ “intensive multi-year transformative actions to continuously improve its standards and practices in order to continue to provide natural gas service to customers in a safe, reliable and cost-effective basis.” The DPU decision is expected by February 29, 2016, with rates taking effect March 1, 2016. The Columbia Gas modernization efforts focus on eliminating the greatest areas of risk on its distribution system, said company officials, including continuing efforts to build an organization that will oversee the replacement of aging infrastructure. These efforts are designed to optimize the efficient distribution of gas and enhance quality assurance. “Our core business is to build and maintain the infrastructure necessary to deliver natural gas in a safe, reliable and cost-efficient manner to our 306,000 customers in the 65 cities and towns we serve,” said Steve Bryant, president of Columbia Gas of Massachusetts. “Columbia Gas has responded diligently to directives from the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities Pipeline Engineering and Safety Division and lessons learned from historical operations. We have made organizational and work practice changes to meet this important public safety challenge and our continuous improvement efforts have involved every aspect of the company’s operations. These changes involve more work, and therefore, more labor and labor-related costs, including ongoing comprehensive employee training.” Columbia Gas operates one of the largest natural gas distribution systems in Massachusetts, with underground pipes of various vintages and material type spanning 5,000 miles. The company’s infrastructure-replacement program targets nearly 900 remaining miles of aging natural gas pipe needing replacement, representing 18% of the company’s entire gas-distribution system. During the replacement construction activity, approximately 45,000 customer service lines will also be replaced. Information on the DPU or any Columbia Gas filings is found on the DPU’s web site www.mass.gov/dpu.