ONG to stop recovering last winter's gas costs from customers

Sunday, December 2nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Oklahoma Natural Gas Co. had to stop recovering last winter's gas costs from customers starting Saturday, even though the company is still owed about $34 million.

State regulators ordered ONG, the state's largest gas utility, to stop collecting the money it was charging customers to make up for high gas prices during the winter.

The company said it will remove a charge of 75 cents per 1,000 cubic feet (mcf) of gas consumed by customers. That equals about $10 to $12 a month per customer.

But the savings may not last.

Oklahoma Corporation Commissioners are expected to suspend the order next week because the utility has appealed for review by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

``As soon as we get a stay, we will reimpose that amount. We believe the constitution mandates that they grant us a stay,'' said ONG spokesman Don Sherry.

A hearing is scheduled Monday before an administrative law judge. The full commission will review the judge's recommendation and ONG's request later in the week.

If regulators stay the order, only a small number of ONG customers will realize any savings, Sherry said.

The company has 21 billing cycles in December, he said. ONG customers who ``happen to be in our early billing cycles in the first few days of December'' would receive the savings.

The savings would not be reflected in bills issued after a stay is granted.

The Corporation Commission approved an order last month barring ONG from collecting $34.6 million in deferred gas costs _ money that has not been recovered from customers _ beginning Saturday.

Regulators ruled that ONG's gas purchasing practices were imprudent and ``did not result in fair, just and reasonable gas costs'' for customers.

ONG had until March to collect some $71 million in gas costs incurred last winter. But those costs were excessive, the commission ruled. The order prevents the company from recovering about half of those costs.

In its appeal to the state Supreme Court, ONG claims the commission wrongly blamed the utility for last winter's severe spike in gas prices, which caused consumer bills to more than double. Prices that ONG paid for last winter's supplies were comparable to prices paid by utilities nationwide, ONG argued.