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High natural gas prices force layoffs, raise product costs BY JOE MILICIA Associated Press Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Businesses that rely heavily on natural gas are suffering the same high costs as homeowners and in many cases passing the cost along to consumers.
``We've got a number of them who have expressed concerns and are even possibly cutting back on production,'' said Andy Doehrel, president of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.
Dan Bartosic, owner of Bart's Cleaners, said his gas bill jumped from $500 to just over $1,000 last month, a cost that he'll recover with a dime increase for dry cleaning.
Lisa Sliemers, of Olde Sawmill Laundry, said 25 cents will soon get customers only 10 minutes of drying time, rather than 16 minutes.
``We're in the process of adjusting machines in anticipation of a higher bill,'' she said.
Joe Apollonio, owner of Dante's Pizza, said he's being hit hard too, but can't raise prices in the competitive pizza business.
Prices are up because of a cold winter, high demand and low supply, said Public Utilities Commission of Ohio spokeswoman Beth Gianforcaro.
It will take 12 to 18 months for production to catch up, unless temperatures warm and consumption decreases, she said.
Consumers are paying for the increase in the gas cost recovery portion of their bill, which is what the utility pays to producers for natural gas. That portion of the bill is not regulated by the PUCO.
Bob Reed, owner of three coin operated laundries in Columbus, said he's seen a 380 percent increase from last December.
``It's just like someone dropping a bomb,'' he said.
He said he increased the fee on his washing machines by 25 cents a couple months ago in anticipation.
Home buyers may not realize it, but they'll be paying a 10 percent increase for chimney flues produced by Sandkuhl in Spencerville near Lima.
Company president Leslie Sandkuhl shut down production six weeks ago and laid off half the company's 21 employees because costs were too high.
He blames an overdependence on natural gas for the high costs that will keep his kilns cold until March.
``The EPA has caused power companies to convert. Nobody is allowed to burn coal. We've got plenty of coal to burn. Now, they won't do anything with nuclear, and we haven't built any new power plants,'' he said.
Logan Clay Products Company in southeast Ohio had a $165,000 heating bill in December, a $90,000 increase from last December, president Dick Holl said.
``We're paying in January three times what we paid last year in natural gas,'' said Holl, who buys his natural gas in advance from a broker.
His company employs 110 in the production of clay sewer pipe sold throughout the East and Midwest.
``We laid off 20 people after first of the year. We cut down on our production to reduce the strain,'' he said. ``They'll come back just as soon as natural gas prices stabilize.''
He said increased production of natural gas and limiting its use are the ways to lower prices.
``Natural gas should not be used in my opinion for electric generation,'' he said. ``We've got to do something to create a larger supply of natural gas. That means more drilling, more exploration.''
On the Net:
Public Utilities Commission of Ohio: http://www.puc.state.oh.us/Consumer/NaturalGas/naturalgas.html
Ohio Consumers' Counsel: http://www.state.oh.us/cons/
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), January 24, 2001