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Op-Ed: Here’s why our gas bills are skyrocketing

CUB Executive Director David Kolata

By David Kolata, CUB executive director

CUB has been sounding the alarm for months about soaring natural gas bills, as we could be on the hook to pay hundreds of dollars more to heat our homes this winter.

You can blame your high bills on two reasons:

  1. Skyrocketing natural gas prices.

  2. Overly aggressive utility spending.

The problem started last winter, with record-low temperatures that hit the Southern United States, freezing gas pipelines and sparking a big jump in prices across the country. And those prices have remained high with the help of a number of other factors, including increased demand and decreased gas exploration and well construction.

Under law, Illinois’ gas utilities are not allowed to profit off these supply price increases—they simply pass those costs from gas producers and marketers onto us with no markup. But the utilities do profit off another part of the bill—what they charge to deliver gas to our homes–and those delivery charges have been rising rapidly.

In 2021, Ameren Illinois received a $76 million gas delivery rate increase, and Nicor $240 million—the largest gas hike in Illinois history. And we’re worried Peoples Gas will file for a rate hike this year.

So what can you do? We’ve set up CUBHelpCenter.com, a free online resource (also available in Spanish) that explains your options for bill assistance, outlines your rights against disconnection and offers safety and energy efficiency tips.

But there’s a lot more to do. A few thoughts:

  • Utilities need to step up. We must invest in an unprecedented utility assistance program–and utilities should lead the way, contributing shareholder money. Plus, they should do everything they can this winter to offer struggling customers friendly payment plans to help them stay connected.

  • The General Assembly should rein in the gas utilities. CUB is fighting in Springfield to eliminate the “Qualified Infrastructure Plant” surcharge on Ameren, Nicor and Peoples Gas bills. It allows those utilities to circumvent the traditional regulatory process to rake in revenue more quickly. For example, Peoples Gas customers were first told the surcharge would only cost about $13 a year on average. But this past fall, it was $13 a month—on track for $150 a year.

  • We must begin planning now for the transition away from fossil fuels. These periodic price spikes are baked into the business model of fossil fuels. But there is hope: CUB just did a study that found customers in Chicago shifting from gas to highly efficient electric heat could save billions of dollars in years to come.

Of course, transitioning to a better way to heat our homes is not a quick fix–but that’s why we need to start planning now. Relying on the status quo means we’ll just continue to get burned.

So we must act. If you’re concerned about high gas bills, please call your legislators and let them know we need to do something about this crisis now.