Piedmont Natural Gas is requesting permission from the state Utilities Commission to lower its commodity, or benchmark, charge in North Carolina.

By law, Piedmont is not allowed to mark up the cost of natural gas and must pass through the actual cost on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

The proposed commodity charge decrease would offset a 3% rate increase agreed to Aug. 12 by the utility and N.C. consumer and industrial groups that include the Carolina Utility Customers Association, the Carolina Industrial Group for Fair Utility Rates and the Public Staff of the N.C. Utilities Commission.

Piedmont had requested a 9% rate increase, saying it needs to pay for system growth, infrastructure investments, pipeline safety and security improvements. The rate could go into effect by year’s end.

The monthly bill for Piedmont's typical residential customer would increase by $1.80 per month from the rate increase. The utility said the rate increase was offset in part by federal and state tax reform, allowing it to return savings to customers.

However, when factoring in the reduction in the commodity charge, Piedmont said the average customer's bill would be reduced by 65 cents a month, or $7.80 a year.

Rates may be further reduced later this year by a projected decrease in the cost of natural gas.

If approved, the requested decrease in the benchmark cost of natural gas from $2.75 per dekatherm to $2.25 per dekatherm would go into effect in November.

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