Thursday, August 02, 2001

Lower heating bills predicted

Natural-gas price outlook good, industry official says

By John McCarthy
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Natural-gas customers who switched suppliers will see lower bills than last winter, but customers who stayed with their original utility could save even more, regulatory and industry officials said Wednesday.

        The price swings show the new marketplace at work, they said.

        More abundant natural gas supplies and new drilling for gas, spurred by last winter's prices, have combined to make the outlook good for customers, Columbia Gas of Ohio spokesman Steve Jablonski said.

        Columbia on Wednesday dropped the price of the gas it delivers to homes and businesses from 87 cents per hundred cubic feet to 60 cents.

        “This year, the economy slowed down a bit, so demand for industrial gas use is not as great and neither is demand for gas for electric power generation,” Mr. Jablonski said.

        Another variable, of course, is weather. Last year's November-December was one of the coldest.

        “It's so intimately related to weather, it's virtually impossible to forecast,” said Alan Schriber, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. But thepoint of deregulation was to give customers control of energy choices,said Ohio Consumers' Counsel Robert Tongren.


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