LOS ANGELES, Oct. 16 /PRNewswire/ -- Due to a sharp rise in natural gas costs nationwide, customers of Southern California Gas Co. (The Gas Company) can expect to see higher utility bills this winter and the utility is launching an information campaign this week to raise awareness of the national issue. "Natural gas prices, like other energy costs, have increased significantly over the past year, not only in Southern California, but across the country," said Edwin A. Guiles, chairman of The Gas Company. The Gas Company's campaign will include ads in major local newspapers and on radio stations, inserts in gas bills and direct mailings to alert customers to higher gas prices, explain the reasons for the increases and outline their options to take greater control of their gas bills. The campaign begins this week and will intensify as winter approaches. Guiles said The Gas Company is projecting that the monthly natural gas winter bill for a typical residential customer will increase about $20, to $70 from $50. The projection is based on the upward spike in wholesale natural gas prices, which have doubled this year -- a trend that industry analysts say is likely to continue. The Gas Company buys natural gas on behalf of its customers primarily from out-of-state producers. "Historically we have been very successful in shopping for the best prices for our customers, and we intend to stay diligent this winter in our gas purchases," said Guiles. "Our No. 1 goal is to ensure reliable delivery of natural gas to our customers, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We are concerned about the impact increased natural gas prices will have on our customers and will work with them to find ways to reduce usage and manage gas bills," he added. The Gas Company offers a number of energy-efficiency programs and services, payment options and limited-income assistance. Customers are encouraged to visit the company's Web site at www.socalgas.com or call 1-800-427-2200 for information. Guiles cited several reasons for the rise in natural gas prices: increased demand by electric generators, who are using an unprecedented amount of gas to fuel their power plants; a temporarily tight supply due to slow growth in new production in the late 1990s; and a robust, energy-draining economy. Historically, peak usage of natural gas has occurred in the winter when there is increased usage by customers for heating their homes and businesses. Natural gas is injected into storage fields in the summer when gas demand is traditionally low. But the unusually high demand this summer has resulted in lower-than-expected gas storage levels nationwide. This summer's peak usage of natural gas in The Gas Company's system for the first time exceeded the previous winter's peak. Despite this high summer usage, The Gas Company expects to have an ample supply of natural gas this winter. Because the United States has enjoyed a strong economy for the past several years, demand for all forms of energy has increased. Since about two-thirds of all natural gas consumed in the nation is used by factories, other industrial customers and electric generation plants, ongoing economic growth continues to push natural gas demand. Southern California Gas Co. (The Gas Company) is the nation's largest natural gas distribution utility serving 18 million consumers through 5 million meters. The company's service territory encompasses 23,000 square miles throughout central and Southern California. The Gas Company is a subsidiary of Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE), a energy services holding company based in San Diego, with 12,000 employees, revenues of nearly $5.5 billion and serving more than 9 million customers in the United States, Europe, Canada, Mexico and South America.
SOURCE Southern California Gas Company