Peoples Natural Gas, Equitable Gas lower commodity charge on natural gas

Western Pennsylvania's natural gas customers will start to see smaller bills in the next few months, and not just because the weather is finally starting to warm up.

Peoples Natural Gas and Equitable Gas, which is owned by Peoples, are decreasing their cost of the commodity. Columbia Gas will release its quarterly gas price adjustment Tuesday.

Peoples’ residential customers will see an average monthly bill of $80.46, down from $80.87, about a 0.5 percent decrease. The commodity charge for the upcoming quarter will be $5.53 per thousand cubic feet (Mcf), down from $5.61.

The commodity charge accounts for about half of a residential customer’s bill. Pennsylvania utilities pass on commodity costs without markup. They make their money on the distribution of the commodity, as regulated by the Pennsylvania Utility Commission.

Utilities are required to adjust their commodity charges once per quarter. The first quarter ends today.

Though Peoples finished its acquisition of Equitable Gas’ utility in December, the two brands will remain on separate rate structures for the next few years, said Joe Gregorini, vice president of rates and regulatory affairs at Peoples.

Equitable’s residential customers will see an average monthly bill of $89, down from $91 the previous quarter. The change reflects a drop in the price of the commodity to $6.29 from $6.51.

Columbia Gas, which reports consumption differently, will charge 55 cents per therm in the upcoming quarter, the same as the previous quarter. That means the average energy bill will remain $86.76.

The company experienced a slight increase in its cost of natural gas. But because PUC regulations do not require utilities to change their price if the change in cost is less than 2 percent, Columbia opted not to change its rates, spokeswoman Rachel Ford said.

Although the cold winter put a strain on pipeline capacity, driving up spot market prices, and although natural gas in working storage is at its lowest point in 11 years, Marcellus Shale production has left Western Pennsylvania natural gas consumers mostly immune to those issues, Mr. Gregorini said.

“This winter, as we all know, is colder than we’ve experienced in a while … but there’s plenty of gas to serve this demand,” Mr. Gregorini said.

Companies will easily be able to replenish their storage this summer, he added.

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