Higher natural gas bills put the heat on budgets |

Higher natural gas bills put the heat on budgets

With the fall nip in the air, folks may soon be reaching for the thermostat again.

But natural gas heat will likely cost more than last winter.

This winter’s natural gas prices are projected to be 10 percent higher than last winter’s for T.W. Phillips customers and 21 percent higher for Dominion Peoples customers.

An Equitable Gas Co. spokeswoman could not be reached Friday for prices.

T.W. Phillips and Dominion Peoples expect to charge customers an average of $160 per month during the winter-heating season from November to March.

For Dominion customers, the cost could have been as high as $169, but natural gas prices have stabilized and the company is projecting a monthly cost of $160, said Joe Gregorini, manager of pricing and regulatory affairs.

Gregorini said the price hikes are due to last winter’s consistent cold temperatures in the Northeast, which meant more people burning through natural gas supplies. Storage inventories went on the low side, which forced market prices up.

“The supply needs to catch up with that and until it does, prices tend to be on the high side,” Gregorini said.

Some Dominion Peoples customers may find some comfort in the fact that their company has made plans for emergency gas delivery.

In January, at least 2,800 people in the Harrison and Saxonburg areas lost gas service after a mix of chemicals and dirt froze inside a transmission line in Arnold, causing a blockage. Most of these customers couldn’t use their furnaces for two days.

Weeks later, Dominion Peoples reached an agreement with T.W. Phillips to buy emergency gas with an expanded number of connection points into T.W. Phillips gas lines, Gregorini said.

Although Dominion officials see February’s gas outage as a fluke not likely to happen again, this change will allow gas to flow if a similar blockage occurs.

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh likely will release winter temperature predictions in October.

Last winter’s temperatures from November to March were only slightly below normal.

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