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Questar Charges Has Battle Brewing

Questar Charges Has Battle Brewing



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John Daley ReportingA change in how natural gas is processed, which inspired Questar's "green sticker" program, will cost Utah consumers millions of dollars. Consumer advocates say that's unfair, but the state disagrees. Now a bitter battle is brewing.

That battle is over the roughly 20-million dollar question of who exactly should pay for those processing costs, the utility or the consumers. The state's Committee of Consumer Services originally sided with consumers, but then did an about face.

By now, many Utahns know about Questar's "green sticker" program. The sticker goes on after a conversion is made so appliances like furnaces and hot water heaters can accept natural gas recovered from coal fields near Price, at a cost of 50 cents a month per household.

For years Questar argued its customers should pay the 50 cents per household for the switch.

Chad Jones, Questar Spokesman: "It's just a cost of doing business like any other cost of doing business that we feel should be covered in rates."

Claire Geddes and Roger Ball, the former director of the state's Commitee of Consumer Service, are trying to obtain legal standing to formally participate in the process, but so far have been turned down.

Claire Geddes, Consumer Advocate: "The real problem is that the committee that's supposed to be representing us is meeting in a back room, negotiating with Questar, and there's nobody fighting for our interests."

Roger Ball, Former Director, Committee of Consumer Services: "The state is supposed to be regulating monopoly interests to look out for the interests of consumers, and frankly it isn't doing that."

The committee's new director declined our request for an interview, but in a formal response to the Public Service Commission, it wrote the pair wants "to frustrate and prolong" the debate and undo the settlement.

Chad Jones, Questar Spokesman: "That decision-making process has now been totally open. The committee has been sitting there at the table involved in the decision making process. They've seen the evidence. They've hired outside experts who have seen the evidence. And those outside experts just disagree with Roger."

In March, Ball was fired by Governor Jon Huntsman, and some state officials suggest that may be coloring Ball's views. The public utilities division head says the current committee is an effective watchdog.

Connie White, Division of Public Utilities, Director: "If someone thinks that residents are not getting adequately represented, Idon't understand that argument. Now, I can understand that Roger may not agree with what they're doing."

The three-member Public Service Commission will make the ultimate decision about whether the two consumer advocates will be allowed to participate.

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