Average household natural gas bill to drop 14-22 percent

| Saturday, March 31, 2012

Rolling from a mild winter into spring, the Pittsburgh region's three biggest natural gas utilities continued to slash the pass-through prices they charge customers for the heating fuel.

Starting on Sunday, Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania's average residential customer will pay $66.44 a month, down 22 percent from the $85 bill a year ago when market prices for the fuel were higher, spokesman Russ Bedell said.

"Natural gas costs are low and stable, and they're anticipated to stay that way" in the near term, at least, he said. Columbia, a NiSource Inc. company with a headquarters in Cecil, has 414,000 customers.

The bill is based on use of 72 therms, or British thermal units of gas. Columbia in February switched from measuring gas by cubic feet, as other local utilities do, to Btus, the standard used in the gas market. The system enables Columbia to charge based on the energy content of gas, instead of the volume, the company said.

Equitable Gas customers will pay $84.97, down 14 percent from the $99.29 bill a year ago when market prices for the fuel were higher, said Scott Waitlevertch, spokesman for the North Shore-based utility, part of EQT Corp. Bill amounts are calculated for a customer using 90 thousand cubic feet, or mcf, a year.

"With the mild winter we had, and with the supply from the shale basins," including producers in the Marcellus region, he said, "customers continue to see the benefits." Equitable has 240,000 residential customers in Western Pennsylvania.

Gas utilities are required to adjust prices quarterly, reflecting what they expect to pay for supplies. The companies don't earn profits on the gas they sell, but make money on its distribution.

North Shore-based Peoples Natural Gas Co. is dropping its bill to $70, down about 5.4 percent from $74 a year ago, based on usage of 92 mcf a year, said Joe Gregorini, vice president of rates and regulatory affairs. Peoples has 325,000 residential customers.

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