Columbia Gas wants to increase rates so it can pay for its infrastructure improvements projects.

The company posted a public notice Friday, explaining it filed a request with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission for the change in natural gas distribution rates.

To support infrastructure improvements, Columbia Gas requested an overall rate increase of $54.1 million per year.

Since 2007, Columbia Gas says it has invested more than $700 million to update and expand its distribution lines. That amount includes more than $540 million in replacing close to 570 miles of aging pipe throughout the Columbia Gas's service area, said Russell Bedell, the company's communications and community relations manager.

The company's 26-county service area includes York and Adams counties, State College in Centre County and much of western Pennsylvania, Bedell said.

The company expects to invest $188 million in 2014, with more than $145 million to be used to continue upgrading its underground infrastructure, according to a news release from Rachel Ford, the company's spokeswomen.

Rate request: The filing is a "fair and reasonable request" that reflects the company's efforts to ensure safe delivery of natural gas by making the infrastructure improvements, said Mark Kempic, Columbia Gas president, in a statement.

If the PUC approves the utility company's entire request, the average customer's monthly bill would increase from $87.12 to $96.20 per month, or by 10.42 percent, for using 72 therms of gas.

For commercial customers using 467 therms, the monthly bill would increase 7.62 percent, going from $412.47 to $443.88. The bill for Industrial customers using 10,733 therms of gas would go from $8,201.71 to $8,704.03, a 6.12 percent increase.

Though May 20 is listed as the new rates date, the increases might not go into effect until the end of the year, depending on the length of PUC's approval process, Bedell said.

The PUC can take up to nine months to review the proposed rate change and determine whether to allow full, partial or no rate increase, said Dave Hixson, a PUC information specialist.

Request review: The review process includes assigning Columbia's request to an administrative law judge to preside at a formal hearing that would include cross examination of the company's records and request by the PUC's Bureau of Investigation and by other parties, including the state's Office of Consumer Advocate and the state Office of Small Business Advocates, Hixson said.

The hearings are public and consumers can fill out formal complaints to be included in the hearings as individuals or as groups. They also can be represented by an attorney.

After the hearings, the administrative law judge will make a recommendation on the request before sending it to the PUC's five commissioners who will vote on the matter at a public meeting.

"We go through this process to ensure that lowest rate reasonable for consumers, while maintaining the financial stability of the utility, making sure they get a fair return on their investment," Hixson said. "It's a balancing act."

Columbia's last rate increase was filed in September 2012 and implemented in July.

-Reach Eyana Adah McMillan at emcmillan@yorkdispatch.com.