Summit Natural Gas says its request for a rate hike that would more than double the cost of gas, a move that has generated protests from some customers, would still leave the price of gas below last year’s level.

In an email to customers Thursday, Summit announced it was asking the Maine Public Utilities Commission to raise the price of gas from 26 cents per therm to 66 cents per therm. Despite the increase of roughly 154 percent, the new rate would put Summit in line with the 67 cents per therm the PUC recently approved for Maine Natural Gas customers in the Windham, Gorham and Brunswick areas, and below the 83 cents per therm Summit customers paid last winter.

A therm is the unit used to measure natural gas. According to the Maine Governor’s Energy Office, the average household uses between 850-1,000 therms a year. A customer on the low end of usage would see their cost of gas, not counting distribution charges, go from roughly $18.50 per month to $47 per month, and on the high end from $21.50 per month to $55 per month.

“We converted our utilities in good faith with the expectation that natural gas is cleaner, more efficient and at an affordable cost,” Falmouth resident Rachel Cooney wrote in the public comments section of the PUC website. This rate increase “is outrageous. I don’t know how this could even be remotely considered, it feels very much like ‘bait and switch.’ I recommend that the PUC does not approve this rate increase as written.”

Summit spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt points out that the proposed rate increase would be a price reduction compared with last year.

“Though this rate is an increase for what our customers are currently paying, it’s a lower rate than what customers were paying per therm last fall and early winter,” Reinholt said. “This is actually the lowest the cost of gas has been going into the winter since we first started doing business in Maine in 2013.”

PUC commissioners are scheduled to decide on the request in early October. If approved, the adjusted price will be retroactive to Oct. 1.

In October 2015, the PUC approved Summit’s request for a rate of 83 cents per therm. But in March, that rate was reduced by almost 70 percent at Summit’s request. At the time, the company said the reduction was triggered by mild winter temperatures and a drop in the price of gas, noting the rate would be revised again in October. Gas companies are required to file annual cost adjustments with the PUC based on expected demand, market prices and other variables, Reinholt said.

Customers were charged about 75 cents per therm when the company opened in 2013 and 88 cents per therm in 2014, Reinholt said.

Summit serves approximately 3,000 customers in Falmouth, Cumberland and Yarmouth, and communities in the Kennebec Valley including Gardiner, Hallowell, Augusta and Waterville.

The increase the company is seeking applies only to the cost of the gas. Delivery costs are calculated separately.

If the increased cost of gas is approved, Summit’s total rates will be $1.54 per therm for residential; $1.43 per therm for small commercial; and $1.23 per therm for large commercial customers.

Last year’s rates were $1.69 per therm for residential; $1.59 per therm for small commercial; and $1.39 per therm for large commercial users.

Summit and other natural gas companies make their profit from distributing gas, not the gas itself, Reinholt said.

Despite the broader context, some Summit customers expressed their anger at the hike request in comments filed with the PUC. Last year, Summit was pledging stable gas rates and low air emissions, while guaranteeing that new customers would enjoy prices at least 15 percent lower than oil for a year.

That prompted some customers this week to say they were “blindsided” by the rate request or that the hike was a “scam” to gouge homeowners who converted their heating systems to natural gas.

“This is an insanely high price increase and cannot be considered anything other than a giant scam,” Gardiner resident Tony Brodie wrote in the comments section. “How on earth can a price increase this high be justified? If it’s an attempt to recoup costs incurred fixing the issues caused by sub-par contractors when originally installed (which literally cost them millions), this is Summit’s problem and NOT the consumers’.”

Brodie is referring to problems Summit ran into while installing new infrastructure in parts of the state that previously had no access to natural gas. Early in 2015, the company was forced to inspect and replace more than half the residential pipe connections called electrofusion tees that were installed by subcontractors in 2014 in the Waterville area.

Reinholt said the company tries to keep its rates predictable and reliable, but some variables, like the natural gas market and weather, are outside its control.

“As we continue to gain more experience and knowledge of Maine’s market we are working to create a more predictable pricing pattern for natural gas so it remains affordable and reliable for Maine families,” she said.