We’re officially at the start of the heating season and Illinois faces a painful winter. One report estimates a 17 percent jump in heating costs this winter, and another says 1 in 6 Americans are already struggling to keep up with their utility bills.
“All indications are that gas bills will, for the second consecutive winter, be elevated,” CUB told one reporter. “It looks like this will be another painful winter for Illinois consumers.”
About 80 percent of Illinois homes heat with natural gas, and last winter was their most expensive since the cold season of 2008-09, with many customers paying hundreds of dollars more to heat their homes. This winter could be worse. This month’s supply prices are anywhere from 98 percent to 433 percent higher than they were just two years ago.
Gas utilities file new supply prices– called the Purchased Gas Adjustment (PGA)– each month. Below are the supply prices for October, and how they compare with the prices from last year.
October Gas Prices
|Ameren Illinois||89.08 cents per therm (up about 33 percent from October 2021)|
|Consumers Gas||98.88 cents per therm (up about 23 percent from last October)|
|Illinois Gas||90.84 cents per therm (up about 120 percent from last October)|
|Liberty Utilities||$1.05 per therm (up about 89 percent from last October)|
|MidAmerican Energy||95.68 cents per therm (down about 0.6 percent from last October)|
|Mt. Carmel||$1.30 per therm (up about 29 percent from last October)|
|Nicor Gas||$1.24 per therm (up about 97 percent from last October)|
|North Shore Gas||86.18 cents per therm (up about 28 percent from last October)|
|Peoples Gas||$1.07 per therm (up about 48 percent from last October)|
Note: Your utility is determined by where you live, so you cannot switch from one utility to another.
Under Illinois law, gas utilities are not allowed to profit off supply prices—they pass those costs from gas producers and marketers onto customers with no markup. State regulators (and CUB) annually review the utilities’ gas-management procedures to ensure the companies did a reasonable job with their gas purchases, given market conditions, to hold down costs for consumers as much as possible.
Gas supply price spikes are a recurring theme in the fossil fuel industry–there was a jump in prices in the winter of 2008-09, and for a period in 2014. The latest spike was first caused by extreme weather in February of 2021. Record cold in the South froze gas in the wellhead and pipelines, limiting supply just as demand went up. Since then, the high prices have been propped up by other developments, including Hurricane Ida in the summer of 2021 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine this year, that have combined to cause ongoing pain for Illinois consumers. Now, the elevated gas prices are causing electricity prices to skyrocket also–because gas is often used to generate electricity.
But the gas utilities hide behind supply and demand excuses. There’s more to this story in Illinois: Aggressive spending and/or rampant rate hikes by Peoples Gas, Nicor Gas and Ameren Illinois also have contributed to skyrocketing gas bills.
While utilities cannot profit off gas supply, they have increased and profited off another part of the bill: Delivery, what they charge to deliver gas to homes. CUB is working to eliminate the “Qualified Infrastructure Plant” surcharge from Ameren, Nicor and Peoples Gas bills (Take Action!) The charge, which was created by a law the Illinois General Assembly passed in 2013, allows gas utilities to sidestep the traditional regulatory process and rake in revenue more quickly, leading to rapidly rising heating bills. Read our Q&A on high natural gas bills.
So what can you do?
- See if you qualify for energy assistance. The application process for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) has reopened through May 31, 2023, or until funds are exhausted. Households at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for LIHEAP funding. To apply or learn more, visit www.helpillinoisfamilies.com or call the Help Illinois Families Assistance Line at 1-833-711-0374.
- Contact your utility. If you are having trouble affording your gas bills, it is vital that you contact your utility. Ask if you qualify for any energy assistance programs; see if you can set up a payment plan to give you a longer time to pay off your bills; and inquire about no or low-cost energy efficiency programs the company offers.
- Let our leaders know. Urge state and federal officials to take action against high utility bills.
- Practice energy efficiency at home. For tips and information about helpful energy efficiency programs offered by your utility, visit CUB’s Clean Energy page. Also visit CUBHelpCenter.com for more information about energy assistance, tips on cutting your bills and your rights to avoid disconnection.
- Don’t overwork your heating system. Close blinds or cover your windows with blankets as an extra layer of protection against icy night winds. But let the sunlight through during the day to help heat your home. Clear radiators, registers, air returns and baseboards of obstructions. Dust, carpet and furniture can block the heat and leave a room chilly.
- Reduce the drafts. Weatherize your windows and doors, and pinpoint other drafts in your home. Your hardware store can provide materials to seal those leaks.
- Clean or replace filters for a forced-air heating system. A dirty or non-functioning filter does nothing but drain money from your wallet. Check it every month—and clean or replace it if it’s dirty.
- Set your thermostat to 68 degrees when you are home and awake. When you’re asleep or away, you can turn it 7-10 degrees lower. NEVER go below 55 degrees, because you could freeze your pipes.