Colder winter pushing up natural gas prices

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Ohio’s largest natural gas utility is blaming the colder-than-normal winter for higher bills about to be paid by residential customers on budget payment plans.

Columbus-based Columbia Gas of Ohio says the typical customer will pay $87 a month right away, a jump of $20.

The Columbus Dispatch reports Thursday that about one in every three of the company’s 1.4 million customers uses a budget plan that evens out payments across the year.

Columbia Gas blames the 30-percent increase in budget payments on a jump in natural-gas prices caused by an increase in demand during a winter marked by unusual stretches of very cold temperatures.

The federal government’s Energy Information Administration says gas prices hit a four-year high this winter.

The harsh winter has also prompted Ohio to extend its energy assistance program.

The application deadline for The Home Energy Assistance Winter Crisis Program has been extended from March 31 to April 15.

The program provides assistance to eligible households that are threatened with disconnection, have been disconnected or if their tank contains 35 percent or less of its capacity of bulk fuel.

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