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Summit: Summer’s gas rate 27% lower

by John Magsam | April 1, 2023 at 4:18 a.m.
A gas-lit flame burns on a natural gas stove in this Jan. 11, 2006, file photo. (AP/Thomas Kienzle)

Summit Utilities told the Arkansas Public Service Commission in a filing Friday that the rate it pays for gas during the summer has dropped by more than 25%.

Also Friday, the utility and the state attorney general's office filed separate documents with the Public Service Commission regarding billing complaints against Summit after its acquisition of CenterPoint Energy.

In the gas-rate filing, Summit reported that its cost of gas for residential customers from April 1 through Oct. 31 is 69.5 cents per 100 cubic feet. That's a 27% decline from 95 cents during the same period last year. A utility spokesman said the company plans to release a statement Monday regarding what the rate drop means for customers.

Summit says it does not profit from the purchase of natural gas on the open market and charges customers only what the company pays.

Black Hills Energy Arkansas' summer gas rate will be 58 cents per 100 cubic feet for the April-October period, according to a Friday filing. That's down 27% from 79 cents during the same period last year.

Arkansas Oklahoma Gas Corp.'s summer rate will be 56 cents per 100 cubic feet, down 25% from 74 cents last year.

Since its acquisition of CenterPoint, Summit has faced growing scrutiny over allegations it overcharged Arkansas customers and mismanaged its billing practices.

Last month, a suit by Little Rock attorney Scott Poynter on behalf of two Pulaski County ratepayers was voluntarily dismissed to allow the Public Service Commission to address the issue. The suit sought class action status for all of Summit's 425,000 customers in Arkansas. Earlier this month, Attorney General Tim Griffin filed a petition asking the commission to open immediate investigations to examine Summit's billing and gas-purchasing practices.

In a filing with the commission Friday, Summit responded to Griffin's motion for the commission's investigation.

According to the document, Summit agreed with the attorney general's assertion that the utility's winter season gas supply rate had increased by 35% but said the company looked forward to explaining reasons why -- including market volatility and rate-calculation requirements.

Summit also noted that the attorney general has not yet detailed how the office believes the winter rate was wrongly increased. The company said it intends to file testimony supporting its position by April 10.

Also Friday, testimony supporting the attorney general's request for an investigation was filed with the commission.

In those documents, Deputy Attorney General Charles Harder -- who is part of the office's Public Protection Division -- said the office has concerns about potential violations of general service rules by Summit. He also noted a broader need to address the company's utility billing practices.

In the filing, Harder noted that from January 1 through March 24, the attorney general's office received 2,981 complaints about Summit, particularly for billing issues. During the same period, the office received seven complains regarding Black Hills Energy Arkansas and no complaints regarding Arkansas Oklahoma Gas Corp.

He said that most of the complaints boiled down to, "My bill is too high."

In 2021, Summit moved to acquire the natural-gas assets, distribution system and customers in Arkansas from CenterPoint Energy Resources Inc. Having closed the deal in January 2022, Summit converted ratepayers to its billing and customer service systems in November, after which customer complaints spiked.

Summit said it stopped charging late fees and disconnecting customers in November and plans to continue that practice for the time being, but encouraged customers to pay their bills or call customer service for assistance with payments. The company said it added workers to reduce call wait times for its customers.

Print Headline: Summit: Summer’s gas rate 27% lower


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