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Natural gas rates go up as the economy plummets, unemployment skyrockets

Most natural gas utilities have increased their prices for June, just as we face an economic crisis. These rising prices are a change in the downward trend CUB had observed in gas prices over the last several months. Thankfully, rates are still relatively low and usage tends to be lower in the summer months. 

The price per therm you will pay for natural gas in June, also known as the Purchased Gas Adjustment, or PGA, is shown in the chart below. It includes PGAs from this month, last month and June 2019 for comparison. Hover your mouse over the graphic to show prices.

North Shore Gas, Peoples Gas, Mount Carmel and MidAmerican all increased their prices from last month. The largest jump came from North Shore, with an increase of about 10 percent to 29.26 cents per therm. Peoples Gas increased its rate by nearly 11 percent, from 17.89 cents to 19.85 cents.

For the second month in a row, Illinois Gas claimed the lowest rate—7.38 cents (almost a penny cheaper than last month’s rate). On the other end, MidAmerican has the highest rate with 30.34 cents per therm.

Rates for four utilities fell from last month, although no drops were substantial. Ameren’s rate fell to 29.49 cents per therm, about half a cent cheaper than last month. Just two hundredths of a cent separated Consumers’ May rate (30.28 cents) from its current price (30.26). Illinois Gas and Liberty customers will also experience a slight drop in price.

Nicor Gas has continued its streak, maintaining a rate of 26 cents per therm for the past six months. This is 11 cents cheaper than the utility’s rate a year ago–nearly a 30 percent drop. In fact, all rates this month are lower than in June 2019. The largest historical decrease was Liberty Utilities. Its rate fell to 23.88 cents, 52 percent cheaper than its rate of 49.54 cents last June.

Still, the fact that rates have increased from last month is not good news, especially given the nation’s skyrocketing unemployment numbersmore than 40 million people have already filed for unemployment since the Coronavirus pandemic came to the United States.

Although there is a moratorium on shut-offs during the public health emergency, please remember that there is not a moratorium on billing. Your usage will still be recorded, bills will continue to be delivered, and full payment will be required eventually. CUB advises consumers to ensure they don’t get too far in debt with the utilities.

If you can make full payments, do so. If you’ve hit hard economic times because of the crisis, be assertive in reaching out to your utility, and let it know that you do want to pay your bills. If you are able to pay something, always seek a payment arrangement with your utility or to renegotiate a payment plan you have with the company. And whenever possible, always seek to practice sound energy efficiency (be prudent with your usage).

If you cannot afford your bills, you may be eligible for financial assistance through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program–or LIHEAP. The program helps low-income consumers pay their electric and gas bills. You can call 1-877-411-9276 (WARM) to see if you qualify.

Reminder: Utility service territories are geographic, so you cannot switch to another utility. Your utility is determined by where you live. Nicor, Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas customers can switch to alternative suppliers if they so choose, but the market is plagued by bad deals. Your regulated utility price listed in this article is most likely your cheapest option.

Click to view previous monthly analyses: May 2020, April 2020, March 2020, February 2020, January 2020, December 2019