Public hearings will begin next week on a proposed natural gas rate increase for some 120,000 Iowans. Iowa Utilities Board Spokesman Rob Hillesland says the first hearing will be conducted over the Iowa Communications Network.

Aquilla filed a proposal on June 2nd for a permanent annual revenue increase of approximately 13.5 million dollars or a 7.6% increase. He says if the full increase is granted, it could raise customers bills by an average of 10.3% each year. Missouri-based Aquilla was sold to South Dakota-based Black Hills Energy after the rate increase request, but Hillesland says that won’t change the request, just the name of the company.

According to Hillesland, a temporary rate increase of about 5.3% has already been granted, so customers have likely already seen an increase in their natural gas bills. The Utilities Board has ten months to rule on the rate increase request and Hillesland says they can approve the increased rate, deny it, or lower the requested increase.

If the board finds the final rate should be set lower than the temporary increase, customers will get back the increase they’ve paid, plus interest, according to Hillesland. Hillesland says the hearings are part of the information the board gathers to make its decision.

He says the board looks at the proposals and reasons given by the utility and makes sure the charges are "reasonable and just." The hearing next Thursday begins at 6:30 p.m. and there will be additional hearings on August 12th in Dubuque and August 13th in Council Bluffs. You can find out additional information on the hearings on the Iowa Utilities Board website .