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Critics blast Mtn. Fuel plan to fund gas line

Critics panned the proposal by Mountain Fuel to have all customers pay more for natural gas so pipes can be laid into small towns that want natural gas.

It would be a blow to small cities and to providers of other energy sources, critics told lawmakers considering the issue this week."You're going to be putting the state in the position of preferring gas over any other heating," said Claire Geddes, state director of United We Stand America.

"What we're doing is asking all the ratepayers in the state to subsidize the expansion of a monopoly, and I'm not sure that is a precedent we want to set."

The controversy began earlier this year with a request to charge all Mountain Fuel customers an extra 32 cents a year to help expand the company's natural gas pipeline to Panguitch.

The southern Utah community has tried for a decade to get natural gas, but needs $1.6 million more even after each of the estimated 460 customers pays an extra $30 per month.

Similar formulas have been used to pay for expanding phone lines throughout the state, but this would be the first such flat fee for natural gas customers.

And unlike the "universal service fund" for phones, which is shared by phone companies throughout the state, the proposed Mountain Fuel fee would be available only to Mountain Fuel - giving the company an unfair advantage over competitors, critics say.

The company further expanded the plan in a proposed law change allowing it to charge up to $1.25 a year extra, to be used to expand service to other rural areas.

The plan also was panned by the 30-community Intermountain Gas Association, which favors bringing natural gas to rural areas, but through municipal governments rather than directly through Mountain Fuel.

The committee is scheduled to vote on the plan next month.