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Consumer Alert: Natural gas prices to soar in April

Several major Illinois utilities are increasing their natural gas prices by about 40 percent to 69 percent on April 1, a lingering effect of February’s volatile winter weather that crippled the nation’s gas supply and caused massive blackouts in Texas.

Last month, 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 simultaneously increased demand. This April, Illinois’ gas utilities will charge their highest rates since the 2014 polar vortex caused market prices to soar.

The price per therm you’ll pay for natural gas in April, also known as the Purchased Gas Adjustment, or PGA, is shown in the chart below. It includes PGAs from this month, last month and April 2020 for comparison. Hover your mouse over the graphic to show prices.

Ameren has the highest price per therm for April at 66 cents, about a 69 percent increase from March. The other big utilities in Illinois, Nicor Gas and Peoples Gas, are expecting increases of about 44 to 51 percent, to 53 cents a therm and 46.33 cents per therm, respectively, in April.

Prices for Consumers Gas and Illinois Gas both dropped from March to April, 37 cents per therm and 21 cents per therm, respectively.

Natural gas utilities do not profit off gas supply. Under state law, they pass on the costs of natural gas to consumers, with no markup. The ones making money when gas prices go through the roof are producers and marketers, the entities that sell gas to the utilities.

Reminder: You cannot switch to another utility for your delivery service. Utility service territories are geographic: Your utility is determined by where you live. Nicor, Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas customers can switch to alternative suppliers for their gas supply, but that market has been plagued by bad deals and rip-offs. The regulated utility prices, listed in this article, are probably still your best bet.

Is the government looking into this?

It is well-documented that the subzero weather that hit the nation caused problems at well-heads and at natural gas facilities along the supply chain. But whenever there is a spike in prices, consumer advocates and regulators investigate whether any energy companies took advantage of the situation to profit. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has launched such a probe.

Additionally, state regulators in Illinois do monitor gas prices, and each year they review the gas-management procedures of each utility. Although it’s rare, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) can order refunds if, after the fact, commissioners determine companies have not been responsible.

Beware bad deals

Consumers in Northern Illinois can choose another company to supply them with natural gas, but alternative suppliers are allowed to set their prices as high as they want. Far from being an opportunity to save money, the natural gas market has been rife with bad deals and rip-offs.

CUB is monitoring prices offered by suppliers in the wake of the storm, but everyone who lives in Nicor Gas territory or North Shore/Peoples Gas territory should pick up their bills to see if they are overpaying with an alternative supplier. If you do have a supplier and you’re overpaying, call the company and ask to cancel the offer and go back to the utility. (Call CUB’s Consumer Hotline, if you have any questions: 1-800-669-5556.)

What can I do? 

Energy efficiency is the safest and most reliable way to keep your bills down during high-priced times like this. Some tips:

  • Keep your home at a steady, safe temperature (about 68-70 degrees). Blasting the heat can be bad for your furnace and your heating bills, but going too low is dangerous to your health.
  • Don’t overwork your heating system. Clean your radiators, air returns, vents and make sure your furniture isn’t blocking any sources of heat. Close blinds as an extra layer of protection against cold night winds. But open them during the day so sunlight can help heat and light your home.
  • Visit our Clean Energy page, order our Guide to Going Green, and see more tips here and here.

Also, you can sign our petition to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) urging it to investigate market manipulation.

And if you’re having trouble paying your bills, please contact your utility. The ICC moratorium on shutoffs expires on April 1, so it is vital that if you cannot afford your bills, you should contact your utilities to learn what protections are available.