Most gas companies are charging prices in December that are an average of 36 percent lower than last winter. The lone exception is North Shore Gas, which is actually charging 3 percent more than last year, giving another glimpse of the roller-coaster volatility of the gas market.
Gas utilities file supply prices–called the Purchased Gas Adjustment (PGA)–each month with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC).
Below are the supply prices for December 2023, and how they compare with the prices from last year.
|December 2023 Price (per therm)
|Compared with November 2023 (%)
|Compared with December 2022 (+/-)
|North Shore Gas
Note: Your utility is determined by where you live, so you cannot switch from one utility to another.
As you can see, with one exception all of the gas prices are down from a year ago, by a range of 32 percent (MidAmerican) to 56 percent (Nicor). North Shore Gas was the first utility in a few months to register a price that was actually higher than last December’s price, with a 3 percent increase.
Compared with the previous month, November, the prices were up for four utilities, by a range of 3.3 percent (North Shore Gas) to 37.9 percent (Illinois Gas). Thankfully, they were down from November for five utilities, by a range of 5 percent (Nicor Gas) to 23.9 percent (MidAmerican).
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.
Gas prices: A recent (painful) history
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 in 2014 and from 2021-2022. 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. The high prices were propped up by other developments, including Hurricane Ida in the summer of 2021 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year. The elevated gas prices also caused electricity prices to skyrocket–because gas is often used to generate electricity. Prices didn’t begin to come down until early in 2023.
But the gas utilities hide behind supply and demand excuses. There’s more to this story in Illinois: Aggressive spending and big rate hikes by Peoples Gas, Nicor Gas and Ameren Illinois also have contributed to skyrocketing gas bills.
The last few expensive winters have just reinforced the need to move away from expensive, dirty natural gas as a heating source. CUB, along with other advocates, have been pushing for the Chicago City Council to pass an ordinance moving new buildings to cheaper and cleaner forms of heating than natural gas.
“Chicago is in a heating-affordability crisis,” Moskowitz said. “But the good news is that we can adopt new construction standards that start the transition away from dirty, expensive gas, curb heating bills in the long run, and protect our health and the environment.”
You can send a message to your City Council representative to urge their support of such an ordinance.
While CUB works for long-term reform, here are some actions consumers can take to get through this difficult winter:
- See if you qualify for energy assistance. The application process for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) reopened October 2 for seniors (age 60 or older), people with disabilities and families with children under 6 years old. 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. Be careful about getting lured into bad deals pushed by alternative gas suppliers. 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. 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.
Visit CUB’s Gas page for more information.