ONG raises rates again, house members to discuss problem

Tuesday, January 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A state lawmaker has proposed as much as $20 million in state aid for poor Oklahomans stuck with high heating bills -- even before the price of natural gas in Oklahoma went up again.

Oklahoma Natural Gas, the state's largest gas utility, announced Monday that it will charge $8.27 per thousand cubic feet of gas on bills customers will get in February.

That's up from the $7.88 rate Oklahomans paid in their January bills. In December, ONG was charging $5.15 per thousand cubic feet, while a year ago that rate was $3.10 per thousand cubic feet.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Billy Mitchell, D-Lindsay, said at least $14 million in supplemental funds "and perhaps as much as $20 million" should be appropriated for Oklahoma's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Members of the House are scheduled to discuss the problem in open caucus Tuesday -- a decision that was made even before ONG's most recent rate hike.

"We know Oklahomans are hurting financially, and we intend to do as much as we possibly can to help them through this crisis,"

said House Speaker Larry Adair, D-Stilwell.

House Democrats had earlier recommended that $8.5 million be put toward the federal program from the state's Rainy Day savings account.

The program is already getting $17.2 million from the federal government.

The program assisted about 55,800 Oklahoma households last year, and the state has received about 84,000 applications for aid this year.

ONG makes no more money off the latest rate hike, since it reflects directly the higher prices the company is paying for gas.

ONG only makes money off the price it charges for delivering the gas, which has not gone up since 1995, spokesman Don Sherry said.

"Fundamentally, what you're seeing in the February charge is the fact that even at $7.88 and $5.15 prior to that, we were still not recovering -- and are not recovering -- our actual cost of gas,"

Sherry said.

The increase from $7.88 to $8.27 mean that a household using 25 thousand cubic feet of gas would pay $9.75 more.

Oklahoma's second-largest natural gas utility, the Arkla-Oklahoma division of Reliant Energy, announced a February charge of $8.63 per thousand cubic feet of gas for Oklahoma residential customers.

Across the border in Kansas, Kansas Gas Service recently announced its customers would receive a 22 percent cut in gas charges.

Kansas Gas' February gas charge is $6.74 per thousand cubic feet, down from $8.68 in January.

Charlie Hernandez, manager of rates for Kansas Gas, said that about 90 cents of the $1.94 decrease was due to the company's hedging program, which locks up gas prices for longer terms.