Illinois residents could pay hundreds of dollars more to heat their homes this winter

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File photo | Photo: Alex Vucha / Lake and McHenry County Scanner

A consumer protection group says that with natural gas prices skyrocketing this winter, Illinois consumers could pay hundreds of dollars more in gas bills to heat their homes.

The Citizens Utility Board, a nonprofit watchdog group, attributed the surge to “skyrocketing natural gas prices” and “runaway utility spending.”

“Early predictions suggest that consumers could pay hundreds of extra dollars this winter to heat their homes,” the group said in a statement.

People’s gas prices for October 2020 were 24 cents per therm and now 72 cents per therm in October 2021 – an increase of 198%.

Nicor ​​gas prices for October 2020 were 28 cents per therm and now in October 2021 at 63 cents per therm – an increase of 125%.

North Shore gas prices for October 2020 were 35 cents per therm and now 67 cents per therm as of October 2021 – an increase of 91%.

The Citizens Utility Board said winter prices this year are expected to be at their highest level since the 2008-2009 heating season.

“High heating bills will be difficult for everyone, but could be painful and even catastrophic for some families this winter,” said CUB Managing Director David Kolata.

“This could require action from state and federal officials to protect gas customers, but we are also urging utility companies to do whatever they can to keep their customers connected this winter. With the spending of some of the large utilities in the state, we’ve been concerned about an emergency like this for years, “said Kolata.

The Citizens Utility Board said the high prices are in part related to climate change.

“Prices have risen since last winter, in connection with extreme weather conditions that are becoming more common with increasing climate change. Record cold temperatures across the south last February froze gas wells and pipelines, limiting supply as demand skyrocketed, “the group said.

This resulted in high market prices and contributed to high utility prices throughout the year.

According to the Energy Information Administration, other factors have increased prices including less gas exploration and well drilling in recent years; increased demand as economies worldwide recover from the pandemic; increased exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to other parts of the world, such as Europe; increased use of gas to generate electricity in a hot summer with a high need for air conditioning; and Hurricane Ida, which stalled more than 90 percent of gas production in the Gulf of Mexico in late August.

“Raw material prices are not the only reason why we pay high bills. While utilities do not benefit from the raw material price, they earn on another part of the bill: delivery costs. And these have grown rapidly in recent years due to aggressive utility infrastructure spending, ”the group said.

In 2013, the General Assembly allowed major gas utilities, including Peoples Gas, Nicor ​​Gas, and Ameren, to add the Qualified Infrastructure Plant (QIP) surcharge to consumer bills.

The QIP helps you to generate income faster and easier than through a traditional 11-month tariff case.

At Peoples Gas, the surcharge is reportedly up to $ 13 a month for an average household, or $ 156 a year.

In addition to the surcharge, Nicor ​​has seen several record rate hikes in recent years and plans to see a $ 198.8 million hike come into effect this winter, according to the Citizens Utility Board.

The group recommends residents have their HVAC inspected, have sealed doors and windows, and set their thermostat to 68 degrees in cold weather to lower their gas bills.

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