Complaints heat up at Gallitzin natural gas meeting

Gallitzin residents say they were left unaware about monthly tariff

GALLITZIN — Concerned residents whose homes were recently hooked up to natural gas — and those who will soon have the opportunity — sat face-to-face Tuesday with Peoples Natural Gas officials.

Most took that time to express frustrations about a monthly tariff, which they claim they were not told they’d have to pay.

“Nobody ever said a word,” said Gallitzin resident Mike Taddei, who chose to hook up to new natural gas lines.

Taddei was one of many residents who visited the Gallitzin Community Building on Tuesday, when Peoples representatives hosted an open house-style meeting to answer questions and address concerns about a gas line expansion in the area.

Taddei said he was shocked when he got his bill earlier this month to see a charge of more than $350. The bulk of that cost, he said, came from a delivery fee, which is higher than in other Cambria County communities.

“Everybody signed on because they felt it was a good deal,” he said, explaining he now feels otherwise. “I’m taking my gas furnace out, guaranteed.”

In Gallitzin, residents who recently switched to natural gas pay a delivery rate of $7.14 per each 1,000 cubic feet of gas. In nearby Cresson, they pay little more than $3 for that amount.

The delivery rate is the cost of getting gas to customers’ homes, including infrastructure. It is separate from the gas recovery rate — the cost paid for the gas itself.

Richard Cox, a Gallitzin resident, said he expected gas customers in the borough would pay the same rate as those in Cresson. At the higher rate, he feels he’ll have a hard time selling his home in the future.

“The value of my home is going to go down,” he said. “People are going to buy somewhere else where (rates are lower.)”

Francine Burk, also of Gallitzin, said she stands to lose money if her Peoples bills are continually as high as her January bill, which was more than $220 just for heat.

About 120 local homeowners opted to tie into Peoples lines, and originally 500 expressed interest. Burk had a suggestion for those who have not yet decided whether or not to switch to natural gas.

“Don’t do it,” she said.

To cover the cost of expansion, Peoples officials originally proposed a monthly fee of $70 — $55 for the main line and $15 for service lines — that would appear on customer bills for up to 25 years, Luke Ravenstahl, the gas company’s vice president of sales and marketing, said earlier this week.

In order for Peoples to expand into Gallitzin, a certain number of residents had to show interest in becoming customers. However, many opposed the $70-per-month charge.

To build interest, Peoples officials decided instead to contract Gallitzin service through a subsidiary company called Peoples TWP. The subsidiary charges a higher delivery rate.

Without that higher rate, the expansion into the Gallitzin area would have been impossible, Peoples Sales Specialist Bryan Waters said.

“We couldn’t afford to bring it here,” he said, noting the same rates will be applied elsewhere in Cambria County where expansion continues.

That was troubling to Colver resident Mary Makin, who said she attended informational meetings to stay informed but was not told about the higher delivery cost before she expressed interest in natural gas.

“I don’t remember pricing being discussed,” she said, explaining expansion is ongoing in her community. “If it’s going to cost as much as my oil, I don’t want it.”

That being said, Makin was willing to accept some blame for the confusion.

“I guess it was our own negligence to assume we’d pay a rate like they do in Ebensburg,” she said, though she still feels Peoples should have made clear the difference in rates. “I think they need to come back to Colver and have another meeting.”

Makin was able to share her concerns with Waters at the Tuesday open house.

Waters agreed that specific prices may not have been discussed, but he maintained that residents were told about the Peoples TWP tariff.

Even with the added cost, residents who switch to natural gas likely will see a savings if they are switching from propane or oil systems, he said.

Waters showed a notebook filled with calculations and said the average Peoples TWP customer will pay only about $30 per month more than those at the lower delivery rate. That translates to about $360 more each year.

Knowing that, some prospective customers may not see a benefit in switching to natural gas, and Waters said that’s fine.

“We know there are scenarios when it doesn’t make sense for them to (switch) right now,” he said, adding that also is true for those who previously agreed to convert their homes to natural gas.

On Monday, Ravenstahl said: “We would hope that folks honor their commitments and their intentions, but if somebody would change their mind, there is no penalty to do that.”

Rates could change in the future, and Waters said Peoples representatives plan to continue to work with those in the community and to answer questions.

“We’re here to stay and be a partner in the community,” he said.

Some residents, like Makin, may be questioning that partnership.

“You are misleading,” she said to Waters when discussing the delivery fee. “You shouldn’t have come in and misled us.”

Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.