HAWKINS COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Some local natural gas customers have seen increases on their bills starting this month. This increase is due to the company operating gas transmission lines maintaining those pipes.
However, Hawkins County Gas Utility General Manager told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that this comes at a very difficult time.
“They have some rate increases they have to have because the federal laws say they have to do certain things now, that they’d have to upgrade your pipelines and make them more safer just like we try to upgrade ours and make our safer. But the increase they hit us with was was really unexpected. It’s announced us about $600,000 a year. That’s expense we just can’t absorb we already lost 240,000 last year because of COVID. Our industry never came back until August so we’ve got five months our fiscal year where we’re still, we probably wouldn’t lose money again this year,” Lund explained.
In this letter sent to customers, Lund said the rate increase was implemented on January 1, he told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that Hawkins County Gas did not start charging customers more until February.
The Hawkins County Gas Commission raised the rated about seven cents.
“The reality is under the seven cents based on the average customer usage. We’re looking only about $2.65 a month. For some people – that’s a lot of money, and we were really reluctant to do this,” Lund said.
For some customers this is a tough decision.
One customer, Dillard, emailed the photo of the letter to News Channel 11 and he told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that this rate increase could mean the difference between food or the gas bill for some in Hawkins County.
“I mean, I’m going to have to cut back on other things to make the gas payment. I mean, for me, it’s just wrong to every one of their customers, now I wouldn’t do that to my customers,” Dillard said.
Enbridge does not manufacture the gas, but simply transports the gas by way of underground pipes.
“Enbridge is a Canadian outfit that owns the transmission line. That brings gas up to our system. They’re the sole supplier for us, they don’t sell us the gas but they transport the gas,” Lund said.
Enbridge sent the following statement to News Channel 11:
“East Tennessee Natural Gas (ETNG) has not filed a full Section 4 rate case in many years, since 1991, and has incurred and is currently incurring increased costs to maintain the safety and integrity of the pipeline. As a prudent operator, we are required to maintain the safety of the pipeline; and as a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regulated pipeline, we file rate cases to recover those costs, just as any other regulated utility.
We are hopeful to reach a settlement with our shippers so that the agreed-upon rates are lower than the rates placed in effect on Jan 1. If a settlement is reached, ETNG will then provide a refund to the shippers for the difference back to The Jan 1 effective date.”Statement from Enbridge Spokesman Michael Barnes
Lund explained that several steps have to be taken on a federal level before any lowering of the rates can be considered.
“It’s kind of complicated – federal law allows them to go ahead and do the rate increase, but they have to approve it and right now, the hearing to approve it before what they call the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, we call them FERC, is not scheduled on May. Now, once they look over all the documents and all that, the FERC will come back and say ‘no you can’t charge this, but we’ll let you charge this,’ and that should reduce the rates in which case we will immediately reduce the rates to follow that, but until that happens our hands are tied. I mean, they’re allowed to by law charges that increase and there’s nothing we can do about it. I mean, we can refuse to pay it and all they do is shut the pipeline off to us, which leaves all our customers without gas so there’s going to be a rate to increase, I’m hoping instead of seven cents, it’s going to come down to maybe two cents. I mean it’s a practical fact,” Lund told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.