TORONTO (CP) Enbridge Inc., which operates Canadas largest oil pipeline and the largest natural gas utility in Ontario, expects stable gas prices this year but wants to charge more for distributing gas. Enbridge CEO Patrick Daniel said Friday that natural gas prices should be fairly stable this year, barring major weather swings. Although there arent a lot of new gas projects coming online, the amount of gas in storage after a warm winter is the counterbalancing factor that keeps natural gas in that $3 US (per thousand cubic feet) range that its operating in right now, Daniel said. In early 2001, gas prices spiked at about $10 US, which led to big increases in gas bills. Enbridge, which operates Consumers Gas, sells natural gas to its 1.5 million Ontario consumers at cost, and earns its money by charging for distribution. While gas prices may stay stable, Enbridge is asking the Ontario Energy Board to let it boost the percentage it can earn from transporting gas to consumers homes. Currently, its allowed a 9.5 per cent return on investment for that service, but we feel that is low by as much as two per cent compared to our U.S. peers and the companies that were trying to compete with, Daniel said. If Enbridges application to boost its return to 11.25 per cent is approved, this would mean an annual increase of about $45 for a typical residential customer who uses natural gas for heating and hot water. A decision by the board is expected in the fall following a hearing this summer. Enbridge reported Friday that its first-quarter profit rose 35 per cent, reflecting strong results at its pipeline business, increased earnings from an acquisition of a Spanish company, and a gain from the sale of investments. For the three months ended March 31, earnings were $113.1 million, or 71 cents a share, compared to $83.5 million, or 53 cents a share, in the year-earlier period. Revenues were up 40 per cent to $1.08 billion. Enbridge shares (TSX:ENB) hit a record high of $47.21 Friday on the Toronto Stock Market, closing at $46.76, up 68 cents. The 52-week low for the stock, which has a current dividend yield of 3.25 per cent, is $35.55. The company expects strong growth, particularly from the transportation of oil from the Alberta oilsands through its pipeline to eastern markets.