- Associated Press - Saturday, April 26, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - More than 100 North Carolina businesses face penalties because they failed to shut off their natural gas during the extreme cold weather in January.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reports (http://bit.ly/PDHiwP) the companies continued burning natural gas as temperatures fell and natural gas prices spiked. As a result, the businesses incurred hefty penalties and ran up utility bills that in some cases exceeded a year’s worth of energy costs for just several days of running heaters and heavy equipment.

PSNC Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas are asking state regulators to forgive their customers for violating the terms of their utility rates and to waive most of the extra fees.

The N.C. Utilities Commission has scheduled hearings in May to hear PSNC’s request and in June to hear Piedmont’s case.

Bridgestone, which typically pays $7,500 for natural gas in January, is facing a fuel bill of $103,142 for the month. The tire maker switched to fuel oil for its boilers but said in public filings it used natural gas to heat its manufacturing plant, which houses more than 200 employees and spans nearly 5 acres.

Chemical Specialties of Harrisburg paid $221,000 for natural gas in all of 2013 and is facing a bill of $79,297 for five days of service in January. Under PSNC’s proposal, the company’s January bill would be slashed to $29,208.

“We’re commending PSNC for anticipating this is going to be very bad for their customers,” said Jeff Davis, director of the Public Staff’s natural gas division. The Public Staff represents consumers in rate cases.

North Carolina’s natural gas utilities offer generous discounts to their industrial customers who agree to cut off their gas flow during extreme weather when there’s a threat of a temporary energy shortage.

But many of the companies had never been asked to shut off their gas valves and were caught unprepared when asked multiple times in January to do so as North Carolina’s two gas utilities attempted to meet record energy demand. Piedmont said 27 of its customers did not fully interrupt service when asked.

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Information from: The News & Observer, http://www.newsobserver.com

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