State regulators and Roanoke Gas Co. remain at odds over a rate increase proposed by the company.

The State Corporation Commission is considering a base rate increase that would boost the company’s annual operating revenue by $10.5 million.

For an average residential customer, the company says, that translates to an extra $5.61 on their monthly bill, or an increase of nearly 11%.

The SCC questions the rate of growth claimed by the natural gas utility and is recommending a lesser increase of $6.5 million.

After two days of testimony and arguments concluded Thursday, a hearing examiner for the regulatory agency gave competing sides four weeks to submit written briefs, once a transcript of the proceeding is completed.

Alexander Skirpan will then make a written recommendation, which will go to the full commission. A final decision is not expected until late this year or next year.

Although it is not a major part of the rate increase, Roanoke Gas’ involvement in the Mountain Valley Pipeline came up frequently during the hearing.

A sister company of Roanoke Gas, RGC Midstream, is a 1% partner in the joint venture. Since it was proposed five years ago, the 303-mile pipeline has generated intense opposition and has experienced cost overruns and construction delays, in large part due to legal challenges by environmental groups.

Roanoke Gas had planned to use funds from the rate increase to build two gate stations and related infrastructure in eastern Montgomery County and in the Summit View Business Park in Franklin County to serve new customers with gas drawn from the pipeline.

The SCC, however, is arguing that the approximately $500,000 expense not be included in the increase.

In a staff analysis completed in July, the regulatory agency questioned the need for additional supply from Mountain Valley, asking if Roanoke Gas could acquire more natural gas from two existing pipelines it relies on to serve about 60,000 customers in the region.

The company has since responded with written communications from the Columbia Gas and East Tennessee pipelines, saying there is no additional capacity.

“Certainly MVP could be the right answer for Roanoke,” Bernadette Johnson, a vice president of Drillinginfo, which conducted part of the SCC analysis, testified. “We’re not saying that it wouldn’t be,” she said — only that there is insufficient data on which to base a conclusion.

The Sierra Club, which was allowed to intervene in the SCC proceeding and question witnesses, continues to argue that Roanoke Gas has not taken adequate precautions to shield its customers from carrying part of the company’s share of the $5 billion Mountain Valley project.

Dozens of customers have submitted written comments to the SCC, most of them expressing opposition to the rate increase and the new pipeline.

Kiva Pierce, associate general counsel for the agency, asked Roanoke Gas’ vice president for customer service if he had read those comments. Robert Wells replied in testimony Thursday that he had not.

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Laurence Hammack covers environmental issues, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and business and enterprise stories. He has been a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than three decades.

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