Natural gas rates to rise

Heating fuel will be more than twice last winter's price

Natural gas bills will likely be about 60 percent higher this winter than they were last winter, thanks to a second rate increase announced by Routt County's only distributor.

Atmos Energy said starting Nov. 1, the price for natural gas will increase 10 percent to 15 percent, provided the Public Utilities Commission approves the hike.

That increase is on top of a 48-percent rise consumers saw this spring. The price of natural gas is currently at 72 cents per 100 cubic feet (CCF).

Karen Wilkes, Atmos Energy public affairs manager, came before City Council on Tuesday to talk about the price increase. Atmos Energy passes increases in natural gas prices directly to its customers, which means the company does not profit from the rate increase, Wilkes said.

"We want the customers to take a look at what kind of impact this will have on them. We want to make sure all customers are very aware of all of this happening. We don't want any surprises with heating costs," she said.

On Oct. 15, Atmos Energy will go before the Public Utilities Commission for approval of the rate increase. Because Atmos is a monopoly, all rate increases have to get approval, including those to adjust to the market cost of gas.

Even with the rate increase, which Wilkes said will likely raise the rate to about 79 cents per CCF at the moment, the price would still be lower than the 95 cents per CCF residents paid two years ago.

Natural gas prices fluctuate on a supply-and-demand cycle, Wilkes said. In recent years, the demand for natural gas has gone up in commercial buildings and in homes. She also said natural gas is being used more to generate electricity.

Because the supply of natural gas is relatively regulated and steady, increases in demand are largely responsible for increases in price.

Wilkes also said changes in weather impact the demand for natural gas. Because higher temperatures in the summer mean more electricity to run air conditioners, more natural gas is used, and the price goes up. More natural gas also is used during cold winter months.

In mid-March, Atmos Energy changed the charge for natural gas from 50 cents per CCF to 62 cents. In early April, the price increased again to 74 cents per CCF of gas.

This summer, in preparation for the wintertime increase in natural gas prices, Atmos Energy purchased half of the amount of gas it expects to use from November to December. If prices go back down this winter, Wilkes said the decrease would be passed along to the consumer.

Wilkes said assistance for those who have trouble paying their utility bill could be available through LEAP, a local energy assistance program. LEAP's number is 1-800-HEAT-HELP.

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