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Natural Gas Prices Expected To Get Worse Before They Get Better

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Just look at a natural gas bill, and it is easy to see that prices have been steadily rising.

Prices are expected to continue to rise, with no break in the increase expected anytime soon.

On Monday, the State Utilities Commission summoned executives from the state's natural gas companies in hopes of learning what may be in store for consumers this winter. After natural gas prices went through the roof last winter, even the prospects of a milder winter will do little to curb the steady rise.

With the end of summer comes a sigh of relief that natural gas supplies have held steady, averting a shortage. With winter just around the corner, one cannot help but wonder if there will be a repeat of last year.

The colder-than-normal winter placed heavy demands on natural gas used for heating. Consumers could use a break this winter.

"Gas prices will go up, resulting in higher gas bills," said Frank Yoho of Piedmont Natural Gas, "probably 20 percent higher than last winter."

That is the news several companies delivered Monday to the commission that regulates how much the gas companies can charge consumers. The State Utilities Commission called in natural suppliers to discuss higher gas prices.

In recent months, natural gas prices were all over the chart. Instability in the market could lead to a shortage and even higher prices.

"Higher prices may be here to stay," said Robert Flanders of the Federal Energy Commission. "That's bad news for the consumer. But in some ways, it is understandable that in order to produce gas that is harder to find and fewer places to look for is going to require a higher price."

Although the gas companies can do little about their higher costs, they have become aggressive in cushioning the shock of higher consumer bills.

The companies set up a deferred payment schedule for consumers who are having trouble making their payments. One company reports $11 million in uncollected payments.


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