Dominion, Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Urge Customers To Use Winter Payment Plans, Reconnection Procedures

Oct 20, 2003

October 20, 2003

Dominion is ready to deliver sufficient winter natural gas supplies, but company and Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) officials advise customers to expect significantly higher heating bills, as national market prices have increased sharply from the same period a year ago.

Dominion and PUCO officials also urge customers to look into the company's budget payment plan and Energy Choice programs, along with government energy assistance programs to help deal with expected higher heating costs.

Under a PUCO order, beginning today, residential customers of Dominion whose gas service has been disconnected for nonpayment, or are in danger of loss of service, may restore their service or avoid disconnection under special winter heating reconnection procedures in effect through April 15, 2004. Participating customers also have to agree to participate in a payment plan to pay off past-due balances. Customers can use this special winter reconnection procedure only once between today and April 15, 2004. In accordance with a PUCO order, Dominion customers can maintain gas service or have it restored, by choosing one of the following plans, whichever costs them less:

  • Pay the entire past-due balance shown on the bill, not to exceed $175;
  • Pay past-due default payments if a customer is on a special payment plan, up to $175;
  • Pay $175.

Dominion and PUCO officials encourage customers to consider the various company payment plans and energy assistance programs to help them deal with higher heating costs this winter. Effective October 30, Dominion will adjust its gas cost recovery (GCR) rate to $8 per thousand cubic feet. The GCR was $5.03 per MCF a year ago. The average Dominion East Ohio residential customer can expect to pay $55, or 43 percent more per month during the months of November and December and January, compared with the same period a year ago.

This regular quarterly GCR adjustment reflects sharply higher national market gas prices, compared with same period a year ago. The current wholesale price of natural gas is more than 50 percent higher than a year ago, and prices are expected to remain high. Production of natural gas has continued to decline again in 2003, after falling about 2 percent last year. Although drilling has picked up of late in response to higher prices, increases in production will not be felt until sometime in 2004.

Natural gas costs account for about two thirds of customers' total bills. Dominion East Ohio has no control over national prices. The company does not earn a profit on the GCR, in which it recovers costs associated with securing natural gas supplies for its customers. The company passes along any gas cost increases, or savings, directly to customers. Actual bills will vary, depending on weather, home energy efficiency, the number of natural gas appliances and household usage patterns.

"National market prices for natural gas are significantly higher than last year," said Jay Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Dominion's delivery business, which has more than 4 million customers. "Dominion and the PUCO are joining together to alert customers and encourage them to investigate budget payment plans, utilize special reconnection procedures and explore options under Energy Choice and government energy assistance programs, which could help them cope with higher home heating costs."

"As forecasts continue to project higher natural gas bills this winter, it is imperative that customers consider their financial situation and explore options available to them," PUCO Chairman Alan R. Schriber stated. "We encourage Dominion's natural gas customers to explore all energy savings options, including customer assistance programs, Energy Choice and energy conservation practices.

For example, under Dominion's Budget Payment Plan, a customer pays a fixed budget amount each month. Dominion will review a customer's budget amount in February, June and October, and change it, if needed. Customers must be current with their bill to be eligible. To sign up, customers should call Dominion at 1-800-362-7557.

Income-eligible customers need only to fill out just one application form to sign up for the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) and the Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP). For an application, customers should call the State of Ohio HEAP office at 1-800-282-0880.

The Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) provides a credit that is applied to a customer's heating bill. To qualify, a customer's yearly gross household income can be up to $13,290 for one person; $17,910 for two people; $27,150 for four; $36,390 for six. For details, call the state HEAP office toll-free at, 1-800-282-0880.

The Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP) helps a customer maintain gas service by paying 10 percent of his/her total monthly household income. To qualify, a customer must meet HEAP/PIPP income guidelines and apply for HEAP. To apply for PIPP/HEAP, customers should take proof of their total household income for the past three or 12 months to the local HEAP office. For the nearest HEAP office, customers should call toll-free, 1-800-282-0880. Call Dominion for more information.

EnergyShare, a Dominion sponsored fuel assistance program of last resort, is designed to help needy individuals and families pay any type of winter heating bill-natural gas, wood, oil, kerosene or electricity. Customers should contact their Local Salvation Army office to apply. Eligible customers may receive an EnergyShare grant of up to $500.

Dominion's Medical Certification Program delays a shutoff, or restores service, when it would be life threatening, or especially dangerous, to the health of a permanent member of a customer's household. Medical certification forms are available by calling Dominion. The program allows customers to make payment arrangements--it does not reduce the amount they owe.

In the face of rising natural gas costs, Dominion and the PUCO encourage customers to consider the Energy Choice program, under which more than half of the company's 1.2 million customers already buy natural gas commodities from a variety of different suppliers, while relying on Dominion to continue delivering that gas to their homes or businesses.

The best source of Energy Choice supplier information is the PUCO's "Apples to Apples" chart, which compares supplier offers. To get a free copy by mail, contact the PUCO at 1-800-299-7271 or visit their website at www.PUCO.ohio.gov .

Dominion is one of the nation's largest producers of energy, with a diversified and integrated energy portfolio that includes 24,000 megawatts of generation and 6.3 trillion cubic feet equivalent of proved natural gas reserves. Dominion also serves 5 million retail energy customers in nine states.

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CONTACTS:    
Media: Neil Durbin, 216-736-6239  
  Jeff Zidonis, 216-736-6228  
  Tracy Oliver, 216-736-6219 or toll-free in Ohio, 1-800-556-4400  
     
Public Utilities
Commission of Ohio:
Shana Gerber, 614- 466-7750

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