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March gas prices plunge for some companies (finally)

CUB is glad to report that gas supply rates are continuing to decrease–even plunging for some companies–after almost two years of elevated prices

Nicor, Illinois’ largest gas utility, is charging under 50 cents per therm for the first time in two years, and the supply price for Peoples Gas and North Shore Gas has plunged to around 25 cents per therm. Ameren Illinois’ price is at its lowest point since April of 2021. 

While this is good news, it is tempered by the fact that consumers continue to be at the mercy of a volatile energy market. Plus, at the same time, the gas utilities are pushing to increase another part of the bill, having filed for more than $887 million in delivery rate hikes this year

Gas utilities file supply prices–called the Purchased Gas Adjustment (PGA)–each month with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC). Prices are down 5 to 44 percent from what they were in February

Below are the supply prices for March 2023 and how they compare with last March’s prices. 

March Gas Prices 

Ameren Illinois52.98 cents per therm (down about 23 percent from March 2022)

Consumers Gas48.75 cents per therm (down about 19 percent from March 2022)

Illinois Gas35.20 cents per therm (down about 2 percent from March 2022)

Liberty Utilities60.15 cents per therm (down about 12 percent from March 2022)

MidAmerican Energy–59.80 cents per therm (down about 40 percent from March 2022)

Mt. Carmel41.68 cents per therm (down about 39 percent from March 2022)

Nicor Gas45.00 cents per therm (down about 34 percent from March 2022)

North Shore Gas25.34 cents per therm (down about 60 percent from March 2022)

Peoples Gas24.95 cents per therm (down about 59 percent from March 2022)  

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 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.

As CUB has reported before, prices first became elevated due to record cold that froze gas in pipelines and wellheads, limiting national supply just as demand went up in February 2021. The problem was intensified by the gas industry slowing exploration and well construction in recent years because it didn’t see those efforts as profitable. The high prices were propped up by other developments, such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Prices finally seem to be coming down, thanks to increased production and milder winter weather that decreased demand. But the volatile gas market lacks safeguards for consumers.

Given that unpredictability, advocates are looking for alternatives to natural gas heating. CUB’s Better Heat guide details how Chicago can transition away from fossil fuel heating to save consumers money and help the environment. (We’re working on a statewide version now.)

While CUB works for long-term reform, there are actions consumers can take to lessen the pain in the last month of the winter heating season:  

  • 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.
  • Beware of alternative supplier rip-offs. Alternative gas suppliers are impacted by the same market conditions that are causing utility prices to increase, so be careful about getting lured into bad deals. Be wary of low introductory rates that will skyrocket after a short period, and read the fine print for add-on fees that can raise the cost of the plan. If a deal seems too good to be true, there’s a good chance it is. Even in this market, it’s likely the utility is your best bet. (Note: Only consumers in Northern Illinois have gas choice.)
  • 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 and light 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.