Good news: For the first time in months, we’re seeing a decrease in natural gas prices. Bad news: November’s supply prices–while lower than October–are higher than they were for most utilities in 2021, and they’re about about double to quadruple what they were two years ago, according to filings with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC).
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. And this winter could be worse. The Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the U.S. Energy Department, predicts Midwest consumers who heat their homes with natural gas will pay about 30 percent more this winter, and we’ve seen some predictions as high as 59 percent.
Gas utilities file new supply prices– called the Purchased Gas Adjustment (PGA)– each month with the ICC. Below are the supply prices for November, and how they compare with the prices from last year.
November Gas Prices
|Ameren Illinois||80.75 cents per therm (up about 19 percent from November 2021)|
|Consumers Gas||62.72 cents per therm (up about 15 percent from last November)|
|Illinois Gas||74.66 cents per therm (up about 57 percent from last November)|
|Liberty Utilities||75.88 cents per therm (up about 19 percent from last November)|
|MidAmerican Energy||73.08 cents per therm (down about 19 percent from last November)|
|Mt. Carmel||$1.27 per therm (up about 35 percent from last November)|
|Nicor Gas||$1.14 per therm (up about 68 percent from last November)|
|North Shore Gas||72.48 cents per therm (up about 6 percent from last November)|
|Peoples Gas||71.16 cents per therm (down about 4 percent from last November)|
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 southern United States for a time froze gas in wellheads 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. The elevated gas prices have also caused electricity prices to skyrocket–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: the Delivery section, 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 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.
- 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. Read our tips here and here. A summary:
- 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.
- Reduce the drafts. Weatherize your windows and doors, and pinpoint other drafts in your home. Your hardware store has materials to seal those leaks.
- Don’t overwork your heating system. Close blinds 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.
- 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.