Pipeline opponents fight Roanoke Gas rate increase

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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) Opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline are asking the State Corporation Commission to reject a rate increase requested by Roanoke Gas.

During a news conference Tuesday morning, they said customers will pay a price for the company's involvement in the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

The SCC will hold a public hearing Wednesday in Richmond to receive comment on the 10.6% increase.

Roanoke Gas holds a 1% interest in the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and opponents who spoke out Tuesday said the company's customers will be affected by an expensive project that isn't needed to supply the region with natural gas.

Irene Leech is an Associate Professor of Consumer Studies at Virginia Tech.

"We're looking at a utility that already has two dependable sources," she told WDBJ7, "and no documented reason why we need a third."

Leech joined others at the Roanoke news conference.

Attorney John Fishwick said the company has benefited from a corporate tax cut, and has reported record profits

"So I don't think they should get this rate increase," Fishwick said in an interview. "In fact, things are going so well for them I think we as customers should get a break, that they should reduce our bills. I know that's a long shot in today's environment, but that's what I think should happen."

"Based on the efforts we've had to modernize our system and improve the safety of our system over the the last five or six years, we do not view it as excessive," countered Roanoke Gas President Paul Nester.

Nester said the company's first rate case since 2013 is reasonable given recent investments. He said the additional supply of natural gas is needed to support the region's economic growth. And he said the company's customers are not paying for construction of the pipeline.

"The infrastructure that we're putting in to receive natural gas from the Mountain Valley Pipeline is really just a small portion of our system infrastructure," he said. " We do think it's a misnomer to say that ratepayers are shouldering that burden."

If the past is any indication, the State Corporation Commission will likely reduce the 10.6% increase that Roanoke Gas has requested.

The State Corporation Commission will accept written comments on the Roanoke Gas rate increase until mid-August.

But it's unclear how long it will take to resolve the case.