Natural gas price increase will sting central Illinois pocketbooks

by Mark Richardson
Illinois News Connection

CHICAGO -- Forecasters are predicting another season of cold, wet weather for Illinois and the upper Midwest this winter, which could bring some high energy bills.

The National Weather Service, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, and the Old Farmer's Almanac are all calling for a snowier-than-usual season, with major storms possible in January and February.

Illinoisans are being advised to take steps now to make their homes and businesses more energy-efficient.

Whitney Hayes, research analyst for the nonprofit advocacy group Elevate, said folks who heat with gas should prepare to dig deep into their wallets.

"There's a couple of things going on with gas prices, one of which is the cost of gas itself," Hayes pointed out. "And so, that does fluctuate depending on the market and depending on what's going on in the world. I mean, gas prices globally are up, it's not just the U.S."

The nonprofit Citizens Utility Board said natural gas prices have doubled or tripled in the past two years, and gas futures just hit a 14-year high. Analysts estimate for November through March, natural gas customers can expect to pay between $1,200 and $1,400 to heat their homes.

Hayes pointed out homeowners could save a significant amount on their energy bills and cut greenhouse gas emissions by switching to electric appliances. While it is not something everyone can afford, she stressed making even minor changes can cut costs.

"Even small things like making sure that there's air sealing around windows and doors, electrical sockets," Hayes outlined. "Even those things can add up when you kind of seal it in -- almost 10% of energy savings -- by doing those small little things."

Hayes added higher gas bills are often a result of regulators allowing utilities to pass along cost increases they incur in what they pay for gas, and the cost of maintaining and expanding the equipment they use to deliver it. She explained both can increase a ratepayer's bottom line.

"In the U.S., and especially in the Illinois-Chicago area, there's a lot of infrastructure costs that people are paying for," Hayes noted. "Gas companies have made all these plans to improve the infrastructure, so that gets funneled down into people's bills."

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