- Associated Press - Thursday, August 20, 2015

BOSTON (AP) - Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Columbia Gas announced Thursday they have reached an agreement that cuts the natural gas company’s proposed rate hike of nearly $50 million by more than $13 million and prevents another distribution rate hike for three years.

Without the agreement, Columbia could request another rate hike within the next year. The agreement also includes $250,000 to help moderate-income residents pay their energy bills.

The agreement was filed with the state Department of Public Utilities. If approved by the department, the new rates will take effect Nov. 1.

“This agreement saves customers millions of dollars and puts safeguards in place for those who struggle to pay their energy bills,” Healey said in a statement.

Columbia Gas sought the distribution rate hike primarily to maintain its gas distribution infrastructure and to improve employee training to better serve its customers, a spokeswoman said.

“All of those initiatives will continue, but we will focus on managing the budget and getting the work done with the resources we have,” Columbia spokeswoman Sheila Doiron said.

The agreement is expected to save the average residential gas customer $37 over the year.

The $250,000 contribution to the Massachusetts Good Neighbor Energy Fund will help residents in temporary crisis who are struggling to pay their energy bills and do not qualify for federal or state energy assistance.

Columbia serves about 305,000 customers in 65 cities and towns in Massachusetts, in the Springfield, Brockton and Lawrence areas.


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