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Relieved of high-priced contracts, Columbia Gas asks to cut prices

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Columbia Gas Transmission Corp., a Wilmington, Del.-based gas pipeline company that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last summer, has applied for federal permission to drop its natural gas prices 22 percent.

Columbia, which got caught in a financial bind after promising to pay high prices to its gas suppliers, has canceled its high-priced contracts and is attempting to pass its savings on to customers, including Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., Columbia officials said yesterday.

Columbia and its parent, Columbia Gas System Inc., filed for bankruptcy protection after failing to win concessions from banks and natural gas suppliers. The company supplies natural gas to 15 states, including Maryland.

If the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approves the price cut, Columbia's gas prices will have dropped nearly 50 percent in the last six months, to a 13-year low, said H. William Chaddock, a spokesman for Columbia.

The price cut would make the company one of the lowest-cost gas suppliers in the region, Mr. Chaddock said.

Columbia was one of the major suppliers of gas to Maryland, but as its costs rose, local retailers switched to other companies. By last year, BG&E; was buying only 1 percent to 2 percent of its gas from Columbia.

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