Walter L. Deemer thinks I am wrong in opposing the Washington Gas Light Company's attempt to charge higher rates to customers who install energysaving heat pumps. He may be right.

Walter says WGL has an ineffective public relations department, "but that doesn't mean the company is managed by scoundrels." I agree.

He adds: "The argument I have heard (and it makes sense) is that people with heat pumps buy gas only at times when gas is in great demand by all consumers, and this gas costs more to furnish. If WGL is not allowed to increase its rates to those with heat pumps, those of us without heat pumps will be subsidizing those who have them.

"I have no connection whatever with WGL, and neither I nor any of my family owns any stock in it."

He says that if he's wrong, he would appreciate being told why.

Walter, it is not for me to say that you are wrong, or vice versa. Each of us is entitled to an opinion. Common courtesy dictates that we listen to the other fellow's supporting arguments and then alter our own views if we acquire new information or new insights that indicate the need for a change.

The viewpoint you express does appear to have merit. However, after weighing it, I remain unmoved. Let me tell you why.

In recent years, WGL has won permission to add a "systems charge" to everybody's bill. Even if you go to Rehoboth during July and August and use no gas at all, you must pay a hefty systems charge each month for the "overhead" WGL incurred in putting gas lines into your house and maintaining its system. I figure that once I pay a systems charge for the privilege of having gas service, I ought to be permitted to buy as much or as little gas as I choose. After I pay the cover charge, don't tell me how many drinks to order.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission charges its lowest unit rate to people who use the least amount of water. To encourage conservation, WSSC raises its unit rate to match increased usage, just as income tax percentages increase for those who make more money. WGL is taking the opposite approach.

It wants to charge a higher unit rate to those who use less gas. And as you say, its heavy-handed attempts to sell this idea to its customers are not a shining example of effective public relations.

When President Carter implores us to set our thermostats at 65 to save energy, is it logical for WGL to charge a higher unit rate to those who do? Would you argue that those who set their thermostats at 75 would be subsidizing those who set theirs at 65?

The heat pump issue is really too complicated to be reduced to simplistic arguments that will fit into a dozen inches of type. I happen to think the gas company's position is ill advised, and I hope that public utilities panels in every jurisidiction WGL serves will turn it down flat. If for no other reason, WGL's request ought to be denied because it would make the gas company a Gestapo agency authorized to pry into private homes to see what kind of heating equipment has been installed in them.


Mae Nelbach of Alexandria also questions an opinion expressed here recently: the suggestion that when passengers on a school bus are rowdy enough to cause trouble, the run should be suspended for a day. The young passengers could think about the comforts of riding as they walk to school.

Mae says discipline should be taught at home, not left to schools, and a busload of orderly students should not be punished for the misdeeds of a few troublemakers. "The driver should report the names of offenders to the principal," she thinks, and the principal should inform parents of the offenders that their children will "not be picked up until they have been taught to behave."

Mae, I am more inclined to change my views on bus rowdies than on gas prices. Your argument makes a lot of sense. The only reason I rejected it the first time I ran the issue through my mind was that I wanted to avoid a one-on-one conflict between drivers and passengers -- especially those passengers big enough to be troublemakers but not old enough to have good sense. Can you imagine a 95-pound female driver stopping for a group of children and trying to prevent one of them, a 170-pound bundle of bad news, from boarding the bus? Isn't it better to let the jerk ride than to risk an eyeball to eyeball confrontation?