PSC staff asks PSC to dismiss Hope Gas rate case

MORGANTOWN — State Public Service Commission staff asked the PSC on Tuesday to dismiss virtually all of a rate hike proposal submitted by Hope Gas at the end of May — partly because they can’t determine if Hope’s proposal is reasonable, staff said, and partly on a technicality: A portion of the proposal regarding abandoning some pipelines belongs in a separate filing.

The case is complicated, staff noted. We boiled it down to its simplest terms in early June and summarize it here.

Residential customers could see their bill rise by $6.08 per month, under the Hope’s annual Pipeline Replacement and Expansion Program (PREP) filing in May. The hike represents a 6.34% increase for residential customers. Hope wants to have its new rates effective Nov. 1.

A Hope residential gas bill shows two sets of charges: the monthly service charge of $21.51, and the gas usage charge (also called commodity charge) of $11.63 per 1,000 cubic feet (mcf). Hope proposed to keep the same service charge but increase the usage charge to $12.071 per mcf.

The hike covers two Hope programs: its General Program for its core distribution system and its Gathering Program for gathering facilities. For this year, Hope projects to spend $64,037,752 for the General Program and $2,500,000 for the Gathering Program.

For 2025, the projected General Program investment is $62,537,752 and the Gathering Program is $3 million.

Here’s where it gets complicated. Hope also proposed to change the name of its PREP to Gathering Replacement and Expansion Program (GREP), reflecting some new priorities and shifts in how it determines its rates. The Gathering Program under PREP covers facilities acquired from Dominion. Under GREP, Hope plans to recover costs associated with buying pipelines from Equitrans.

Hope proposes to recover its GREP costs in its other annual filing: its 2024 Purchased Gas Application, which gas companies are required to file annually to account for the cost of the natural gas they buy and distribute.

In staff’s Tuesday motion to dismiss, they note that Hope didn’t provide proposed GREP rates to recover its expenses, or the revenue requirements to support it proposed rates.

Under state code, staff said, proposed rates must be just and reasonable, prudent and useful, not contrary to the public interest, and allow for adequate, efficient, safe, reliable and reasonably priced natural gas service.

Hope’s proposal, staff said, make it impossible to give adequate notice of proposed rates or allow PSC to make an informed decision on whether the rates are reasonable.

On the matter of the technicality, Hope projected annual investment in gathering-facility-related projects would increase to $30 million. And Hope proposed to abandon in place or transfer to other companies certain gathering pipelines that it acquired from other companies and are no longer necessary or useful. Customers served by these lines would be switched to propane.

Staff said that a proposal to abandon or transfer pipelines is a different type of proceeding and doesn’t belong in this PREP/GREP filing.

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