CHICAGO, March 26, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- The Citizens Utility Board (CUB) warned Friday that several major Illinois utilities will increase their residential natural gas prices by a range of about 35.2 percent to 68.9 percent on April 1, a lingering effect of February's volatile winter weather that crippled the nation's gas supply and caused blackouts in Texas and across the nation.
The gas utilities will charge their highest rates since the polar vortex caused market prices to soar in 2014. This happens on April 1, just as a moratorium on utility shut-offs gets lifted in Illinois—causing concern about consumers being able to afford their gas bills and keep their heat on, CUB said.
"We hope April brings mild weather, because people don't need high utility bills now," CUB Executive Director David Kolata said. "We urge everyone to stay safe and practice energy efficiency."
The price increases will be up to 69 percent higher compared with prices in March, and double what some of the companies charged in April 2020. A summary of what major gas utilities will be charging April 1:
Ameren Illinois: 66.038 cents per therm (68.9 percent increase from March's price) MidAmerican Energy: 63.130 cents per therm (35.2 percent increase March's price) Nicor Gas: 53 cents per therm (51.4 percent increase from March's price) North Shore Gas: 41.61 cents per therm (2.3 percent increase from March's price) Peoples Gas: 46.33 cents per therm (43.9 percent increase from March's price)
Note: These are preliminary tariff filings. They could be amended before April 1.
In mid-February, dangerously low temperatures and up to a foot of snow prompted Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker to issue a disaster proclamation for all 102 counties. The extreme cold was felt across the nation, freezing natural gas pipelines and wellheads in Texas and other areas of the South. That limited the country's gas supply, and coupled with high demand, it prompted Gov. Pritzker to warn Illinois consumers about "soaring utility bills" in the future.
In issuing its consumer alert, CUB shared key information about the high gas prices:
Call your utility. If you are having a difficult time affording your utility bills, call your utility to see what payment options and financial assistance are available to help keep your heat on during the pandemic. It's vitally important consumers call now, as utilities are set to end their moratoriums on shut-offs on April 1.
Beware of rip-offs. Consumers in Northern Illinois can choose a company other than the regulated utilities—Nicor Gas, North Shore Gas, Peoples Gas—to supply their gas. However, the market is littered with bad deals and rip-offs, and it's likely the regulated utility is your best bet. "Be careful about getting lured into offers that may seem like a good deal now, but will end up costing you potentially much more in the long run," Kolata said. "Buyer beware."
Energy efficiency can control costs. At CUBHelpCenter.com, the consumer group has a warning about the high prices that includes tips and information about utility programs to make a home more energy efficient. "It's times like this that show how important practicing energy efficiency is," Kolata said. "The cheapest therm of natural gas is the therm you don't waste."
The utilities don't profit off high gas prices. Under state law, they pass on the costs of natural gas to consumers, with no markup. (The companies do make a profit off the rates they charge consumers to deliver gas to homes. In fact, CUB is currently fighting more than $300 million in proposed delivery rate hikes.) State regulators in Illinois do monitor gas prices, and each year review the gas-management procedures of each utility, after the fact, to determine if their purchasing decisions are prudent and reasonable. So who's making money off the high prices? Natural gas producers and marketers, the companies that sell the heating fuel to the utilities, can profit off the high prices.
Skyrocketing prices just increase the urgency for strong energy legislation in Springfield. CUB is pushing for the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA), which would expand natural gas efficiency programs to spark hundreds of millions of dollars in savings each year.
CUB is Illinois' leading nonprofit utility watchdog. Created by the Illinois Legislature, CUB opened its doors in 1984 to represent the interests of residential and small-business utility customers. Since then, it has saved consumers more than $20 billion by helping block rate hikes, secure refunds, and fight for clean, low-cost energy. For more information, call CUB's Consumer Hotline, 1-800-669-5556, or visit its website, www.CitizensUtilityBoard.org.