Monday, March 23, 2009

Natural Gas Prices a Silver Lining in Down Economy

While the economic downturn has made a lot of things less affordable, that hasn't been true of natural gas. Several providers in western Pennsylvania have been lowering their prices since last summer, as production has increased and oil prices have dropped. Large providers are required by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to adjust their rates each quarter based on the wholesale prices they pay. Utilities are not allowed to charge customers more than the commodity price, although that's only one component of their monthly bills. Natural gas providers also add other fees, such as a delivery charge and service charge.

Dominion expects its April 1st filing will reflect a lower commodity rate. A spokesman says the average residential customer paid about $160 in July; that dropped to $116 in January. Equitable Gas recently raised its delivery charge, but a spokesman says lower commodity prices should offset that increase. Columbia Gas says its rates have also been going down.

Smaller natural gas providers are also lowering their rates. Small providers are only required to adjust their commodity prices annually. But in Butler County, Andreassi Gas Company recently petitioned the PUC to lower its rates earlier. Owner Mike Andreassi says that's because prices have already dropped more than eight percent since November, and he wanted to pass on the reduction to his roughly 400 customers. Andreassi says many of his customers are unemployed and will appreciate saving the money now.

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