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Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania filed a request on Friday with the state Public Utility Commission to increase its base rates for distribution service, according to a company news release.

The company is seeking an approximately $55 million yearly revenue increase to aid in Columbia Gas' efforts to replace and upgrade underground natural gas pipelines.

Approval of the proposal would result in increases of approximately 12.5 percent for residential customers, 9 percent for small commercial customers and 6.5 percent for small industrial customers, according to the release.

Base distribution rates and gas costs make up customers' bills, with utility companies required under state law to charge exactly what they paid on natural gas, without profit. The distribution rate, which includes maintenance and upgrades, is set by the PUC.

Columbia Gas spokesman Russell Bedell said the company has filed similar requests the past few years with the commission, which has only approved portions of those requests.

"We file them because our pipeline replacement program is aggressive," Bedell said. "It's all about safety."

Since 2007, the company has invested $1.1 billion to improve and expand its distribution system in Pennsylvania, with approximately $845 million dedicated to replacing pipes. In 2016, it plans on investing $210 million in Pennsylvania, with more than $160 million dedicated to upgrading underground infrastructure in 26 counties, including York.

"Natural gas prices are low, which is why it makes sense to invest in infrastructure right now," Bedell said.

The total average residential customer bill, when adjusted for inflation, would still be about 29 percent lower in 2017 than 2006 even if the full request is approved, according to Bedell.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com.

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