Mass. AG Coakley Opposes Columbia Gas Rate Hike

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley says she is opposing a $29  million rate increase proposed by Columbia Gas, claiming the company is trying to pass along millions of dollars in unnecessary costs to ratepayers.

The gas company says much of the funds are needed to facilitate what they call an aggressive plan to replace aging natural gas pipes and enhance public safety. But Coakley says the company already received authorization for that kind of investment four years ago – and has been slow to move. And Coakley says an investigation by her office revealed those costs included more than 100-thousand dollars for corporate jet travel.

“They can not have it both ways, which is: give a huge rate of return to their shareholders, let their executives on corporate jets and then turn around and say but we need more money to do things we should have been doing all along and say the ratepayers have to pick up the bill for that.”

Columbia gas spokeswoman Shelia Doiron counters that Coakley’s analysis of jet travel expenses was flawed. Doiron says use of a corporate jet makes executives nation-wide work more efficient. And, she says, the company does not charge for pipe replacements until the pipes are in the ground.

“Infrastructure replacement recovery for capital costs is only given after the fact. We don’t get that money up front, we don’t get it in rents. It’s only achieved through an annual filing after the  construction has already taken place.”

The utility, formerly known as Baystate Gas, filed the rate request to state regulators this past Spring. Columbia Gas serves about 295-thousand natural gas customers in Massachusetts, including in Hampden and Hampshire counties.  The Department of Public Utilities must rule on the proposed rate increase by November 1st.