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Natural Gas Prices Heat Up; Businesses Call For Investigation

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RALEIGH, N.C. — When cold weather hits, it is normal for natural gas prices to rise. This year, market prices soared nearly 50 percent right before Thanksgiving.

That jump has some people asking questions, especially local businesses.

Many restaurants rely on natural gas to power grills and fryers.

Some restaurant managers, like Ron Colbert, did not count on the spike in natural gas prices -- especially since part of the reason they use natural gas is it is less expensive than electric power.

"It's certainly something we're going to be paying attention to," he said. "As the prices increase, it's going to affect our profitability, which will eventually trickle down to our customers. So it's not a good thing."

Some businesses are calling for a congressional investigation into possible market abuses.

PSNC Energy, a provider of natural gas to the region, will not speculate about price gouging, but offered this explanation:

"It's really a matter of supply and demand," said Angie Townsend of PSNC Energy. "At the start of the heating season, it's not unusual to see prices rise, climb on the wholesale market, especially when we're experiencing winter weather, colder weather."

Like the weather, predicting where prices will go is difficult.

"If it's a short-term issue, we'll ride the storm and let it go," Colbert said.

PSNC Energy said it built its storage levels up this year. Because of that, the company does not anticipate a rate hike. In fact, it recently decreased rates by 11 percent.

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