ERIE — National Fuel Gas is projecting an increase for residential customers starting Aug. 1.

National Fuel Gas Distribution Corp. announced the increase Monday after submitting to the Public Utility Commission its required annual purchase gas cost projection from Aug. 1 through July 31, 2011.

The company is projecting an increase in overall gas cost expense totaling about $54,014,000 per year. If approved as filed, the monthly bill for a typical residential customer using 95,000 cubic feet of natural gas annually would increase from $81.45 to $100.71 per month, or by 23.6 percent, starting Aug. 1

“National Fuel is required by law to shop for the most reasonably priced gas while still maintaining an adequate supply for our more than 200,000 customers during the most severe weather,” said Nancy Taylor, senior manager of corporate communications for NFG. “When market prices change, either up or down, we are required to pass those changes on to our customers.”

Taylor said the primary reason for the projected increase is the completion of a refund of previous overcollections that is included in current rates.

In addition, market prices for natural gas to be effective beginning in August are projected to be greater than the market prices for natural gas currently reflect in rates, Taylor said.

Customers are reminded that the projected increase is only a forecast for prices to be experienced later this year, and that the filing must be reviewed and approved by the PUC.

The forecast will be adjusted to reflect actual and more current market prices as the year progresses, according to a press release from National Fuel.

For National Fuel’s Pennsylvania customers, gas supply charges are established through annual filings and can be adjusted on a quarterly basis to account for changes in the marketplace price of natural gas, according to NFG.

Gas supply charges make up about 65 percent of a customer’s annual bill and are passed on to customers dollar for dollar, without any markup or discount, unlike delivery service charges, which reflect the company’s cost of doing business and are determined by the PUC, according to NFG.

Taylor said that although rates are about 49 percent lower than last winter, the seasonal colder temperatures are resulting in bills that can present a hardship for some NFG customers. Anyone who is having difficulty paying their bill should call NFG at (800) 365-3234. Service representatives will work with them to set up a payment plan or refer them to the appropriate agency for assistance.

National Fuel serves about 209,000 customers in 14 counties in northwestern Pennsylvania.

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