Natural gas prices soaring, too

Industry says weather extremes a drain on supplies

June 19, 2008
By CHRISTOPHER KROMER / Tribune Chronicle
For consumers who’ve grown weary of reading about pain at the gasoline pump, there’s another twist — the pain could extend to the thermostat, too.

According to Dominion East Ohio, which provides natural gas service to 1.2 million customers in northeast Ohio, current rates are soaring above last year’s prices.

Dominion customers are experiencing a 34.8 percent increase in their mid-June to mid-July service prices from last year. The current average monthly bill is $50.47, compared to $37.43 last year, company spokesman Neil Durbin said.

This comes on the heels of news The Associated Press reported last week that the state’s Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) was cut by more than $7 million this year, leaving about $2.5 million for relief statewide. There was more demand for the money last winter, when $3 million more was spent on heating homes due in part to the struggling economy.

Because of this, the program is being delayed by a month statewide and will serve less than half the people it assisted last year. Health experts said they believe that this will expose more Ohioans to heat stroke and breathing problems.

‘‘This is all resulting from the weather,’’ Durbin said. ‘‘We had colder than normal winter weather that extended into February and March.’’

Also, the extended heating season put a strain on natural gas supplies, something an unusually hot summer also could do.

‘‘A lot of natural gas is used to generate electricity, which is the main factor that increases natural gas prices,’’ Durbin said. ‘‘In previous years, summer was usually the time when natural gas costs would go down.’’

That trend reverses during especially hot summers, when temperatures force consumers to operate more air conditioners, again putting stress on the natural gas supply.

Only time will tell if the upward pressure will extend into the winter months, typically viewed as heavy fueling season.

‘‘A lot will depend on what happens in July and August to see if the upward trend in prices will continue,’’ Durbin said. ‘‘If it’s cooler, we could see a decrease.’’

Durbin said the company offers a variety of modified payment plans to help consumers avoid shutoffs in the coldest months. Government administered programs, including HEAP and Percentage of Income Payment Plan (PIPP), also are available.

Durbin stressed the need for consumers anticipating financial difficulty to contact the company as soon as possible. Customers may call the company’s toll-free number at 800-362-7557 for more information on payment plans.



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