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February’s natural gas prices: How much will you pay to heat your home?

A year after a deep freeze across the Southern United States sparked problems in the natural gas distribution system, Illinois consumers are still suffering under skyrocketing heating bills because of that extreme weather and other market problems.   

The prices for major natural gas utilities in Illinois are as follows: 

Ameren Illinois – 69.913¢ per therm (Up about 96 percent from February 2021.)
Consumers Gas – 56.455¢ per therm (Up about 73 percent from last February.)
Illinois Gas – 65.07¢ per therm (Up about 57 percent from last February.)
Liberty Utilities – 65.49¢ per therm (Up about 170 percent from last February.)
MidAmerican Energy – $1.02 per therm (Up 193 percent from last February.)
Mt. Carmel – 43.41¢ per therm (Up 27 percent from last February.)
Nicor Gas – 55.00¢ per therm (Up 83 percent from last February.)
North Shore Gas – 59.31¢ per therm (Up 55 percent from last February.)
Peoples Gas – 59.58¢ per therm (Up about 103 percent from last February.)

While prices from a few companies came down a bit from January (down about 1 percent for Ameren and about 10 percent for Nicor, for example), winter prices are still much higher than they have been in more than a decade.

For about 10 months, natural gas prices have been elevated, sparked at first by record-low temperatures that hit the nation last February. In the South, the extreme cold, connected to climate change, disabled wellheads and other parts of the nation’s natural gas delivery network just as demand went up.

A number of other factors have contributed to the spike, including increased Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) exports to other parts of the world, such as Europe, keeping supply lower here;  less gas exploration and well construction; increased use of gas for electricity generation during the hot summer; and Hurricane Ida, which knocked more than 90 percent of gas production in the Gulf of Mexico offline in late August.

While gas utilities simply pass the high prices onto customers, with no markup–it’s illegal for them to profit off of gas supply–they have increased and profited off bills in other ways.

CUB has been on a years-long campaign to rid Ameren Illinois, Nicor Gas and Peoples Gas bills of the “Qualified Infrastructure Plant” surcharge. The charge, which went into effect thanks to a law the General Assembly passed in 2013, allows the companies to sidestep the traditional regulatory process and rake in revenue more quickly, leading to rapidly rising heating bills. When the utilities first got legislative approval for this surcharge, we were told it would only cost about $13 a year on average for Peoples Gas customers. Those customers are now paying about $13.54 a month, on average—on track for $150 a year.

It is expected that gas companies maintain their pipelines and other infrastructure, but they can do this without bankrupting their customers. In 2021, Ameren received a $76 million increase and Nicor a record $240 million increase, and we’re concerned Peoples Gas will come in for an increase in 2022.

CUB urged consumers to visit CUBHelpCenter.com. The free online resource  explains why gas prices are high, offers safety and efficiency tips, outlines a customer’s rights against disconnection and arms customers with information about energy assistance. Also, check out these efficiency and hazardous weather tips.

If you are struggling to afford your bills, please contact your utility to see about energy assistance available and to work out a consumer-friendly plan to pay your bills and stay connected.

Reminder: You cannot switch to another utility. Utility service territories are geographic: Your utility is determined by where you live. Nicor, Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas can switch to alternative suppliers, but be careful: That market has been plagued by bad deals and rip-offs.

Suppliers may try to use the headlines about high prices to lure you into a bad deal. Remember, suppliers are impacted by the same market conditions that are causing utility supply rates to go up. If an offer from a supplier seems too good to be true, there’s a good chance it is.