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PARALLEL UNIVERSE: WV Gas Companies File Modest Rate Decreases; Dominion Hope Files Increase; Just the Start of Process: Billy Jack Gregg

Posted by kinchendavid on August 12, 2006

   

By David M. Kinchen

 

Editor, Huntington News Network

 
Hinton, WV   –
 As I promised in my Aug. 1, 2006 Parallel Universe column,  I’m keeping HNN readers posted on one of the biggest pocketbook issues facing West Virginians: Skyrocketing natural gas costs that have gone up 87 percent over the last few years – while the official rate of inflation has increased  “only” 11 percent.

Of course the official rate of inflation excludes “volatile food and energy costs,” rendering it virtually useless except for Ph. D economists. I’ve never been able to determine why inflation calculations don’t include everything, volatile or not. After all, personal computers and digital cameras have decreased in cost drastically and this decrease is calculated into the official rate of inflation, isn’t it? If goods and services that decline in cost are used to fix the inflation rate – which determines Social Security increases, among other things – why not include goods and services that increase – volatile or not?

Following a request by HNN, Billy Jack Gregg, director of the Consumer Advocate Division of the Public Service Commission, supplied us with rate filings from the gas companies that serve West Virginia.

Here’s what he told me: “Here’s what the gas companies filed for on August 1.  This just starts the process.  We’ll be in there trying to bring them lower.  The rate for this winter (effective November 1) will be set around the first week of October.  Pray for no hurricanes.”

Billy Jack, I’m praying!  I’m also praying that the double-domes who buy gas at these companies are at least as smart as their counterparts in California and Illinois, where residential rates are substantially lower than West Virginia’s. See my column of Aug. 1, 2006, a part of which is appended to this column.

                                  Natural Gas Rate Filings

Mountaineer
$0.81 per Mcf decrease
Current bill for 13 Mcf:        $206.76
Same bill with new rate:        $196.23

West Virginia Power Gas
Rates become same as Mountaineer
Current bill for 13 Mcf $211.79
Same bill with new rate:        $196.23

Bluefield
$0.815 per Mcf decrease
Current bill for 13 Mcf $208.68
Same bill with new rate:        $198.08

Dominion Hope
$1.99 per Mcf increase
Current bill for 13 Mcf $215.60
Same bill with new rate:        $241.50

Equitable
$0.05 per Mcf decrease
Current bill for 13 Mcf $210.54
Same bill with new rate:        $209.89

Consumers
$1.258 per Mcf decrease
Current bill for 13 Mcf $203.73
Same bill with new rate $187.37

Union
$1.077 per Mcf decrease
Current bill for 13 Mcf $205.95
Same bill with new rate $191.95

                                      * * * *

 And now  for something from my Aug. 1 column:

 

Byron L. Harris, an economist at the CAD who’s put up with my rantings for several years with good spirits, says not all utilities will be granted increases. Some gas companies will get decreases – none too soon for our stretched budgets, I say.

 

Harris turned me onto a wonderfully easy to use web site from the Federal Energy Information Administration (EIA)  that  allows a person to click on a particular state and find out what, for instance Californians are paying for gas (about six bucks less per thousand cubic feet (MCF) than West Virginians, I discovered). The web site: http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/dnav/ng/ng_pri_sum_dcu_nus_m.htm

 

 

Here are some residential prices for May 2006 per MCF by state:

West Virginia: $17.85; California: $11.91; Virginia: $17.39; Illinois: $10.81; Ohio: $15.06; Pennsylvania: $18.06; Maryland: $18.15; Kentucky: $15.85; Alaska: $7.21; Indiana: $14.48; New Jersey: $16.16; New York: $16.29; New Mexico: $13.13; and ….drum roll…Hawaii: $34.72!  Yes, that’s not a typo. I’ve been to Hawaii a couple of times and wonder, aside from the upcountry of Maui, where would you need gas to heat anything. Winter temps are about the same as summer ones in all the islands I’ve been to.

 

The U.S. average, according to the site is $14.87, so we are just shy of $3 above the national average for a state with below national average per capita income.

Here’s a web site for per capita income by state: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0104652.html

 

According to the site, the U.S. per capita income was $34,586 in 2005, the latest year for which numbers are available. West Virginia: $27,215; Virginia: $38,390; Ohio: $32,478; Kentucky: $28,513; Illinois: $36,120.

 

I know it’s just one way of comparing the impact on the average consumer of high energy prices — not taking into account, for instance, much higher property taxes in many states — but it says something that a state $7,000 below the national per capita income level should be paying $3 more than the national average for natural gas, in a state that’s a major natural gas producer.

 

                                       

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