Mississippi's largest gas utility to raise rates for 260,000

JACKSON, Miss. - Natural gas bills will rise beginning Jan. 1 for customers of Mississippi's largest gas utility, after regulators approved plans Tuesday for Dallas-based Atmos Energy Corp to raise rates on its 260,000 Mississippi customers.

Rates for a yardstick residential customer should go up by more than $2 a month, with most of the money going to pay for Atmos to repair and replace aging pipes and infrastructure. Atmos spokesman Robert Lesley said bills for a yardstick residential customer would rise from $51.54 now to $54.38, but Brandi Myrick of the Public Utilities Staff said almost $1 of that amount would be offset by other money Atmos will be refunding.

Separately, Atmos will spend $5 million next year with the goal of adding 1,000 residential customers.

Lesley said the increases are projected to raise the company's revenue by about $9 million next year in Mississippi.

Most of the money will go to repairing and replacing Atmos' transmission lines and other infrastructure. Myrick said Atmos projects rate increases in future years for the same reason. Atmos Mississippi Division President David Gates said the company is trying to stay ahead of stricter federal requirements for natural gas pipelines after a series of leaks and explosions.

Some of the money will go toward a program to expand natural gas to industries in rural areas.

The residential expansion effort won't require higher rates, though. Atmos will spend $25 million on the effort over the next five year, out of revenue the company was using for other purposes.

That effort has been advocated by Public Service Commission Chairman Brandon Presley, a Democrat representing Mississippi's northern third. Presley said Tuesday that access to natural gas saves those residents money.

"Growing the number of customers helps all of Atmos' other customers," Presley said. He said rural customers deserve the same choices as urban customers. He said more than 3,000 people, mostly in his district, have expressed interested in access to natural gas.

The commission will approve expansion proposals that Atmos will file.

"We're not building a bridge to nowhere," Gates said, saying most new customers would be close to areas already served.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that the rate increase will be used for industrial expansion, but not for residential expansion.


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