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Keith McCord Reporting Starting in November, natural gas bills in Utah will jump 40 percent over last year, and the recent hurricanes are only a part of the problem. Demand for natural gas has been on the increase for awhile now, and supplies aren't keeping pace.
Customers are concerned right now, but they're going to get mad pretty soon. It'll be a delayed effect because it's still pretty warm; for the most part, we haven't turned on the furnaces yet. But be prepared for utility bill shock!
"So the first bills, we estimate customers seeing a 30-dollar increase per month in those bills as a result of what's happened."
Leslie Reberg heads the Utah Division of Consumer Services. She says Utahns with low or fixed incomes are worried about how they'll pay their Questar bills this winter. The phones are ringing already.
Leslie Reberg, Dir. Utah Commision of Consumer Services: "I think we anticipate hundreds in the near term, but after a couple of months, it could be numerous, numerous individuals."
The natural gas hikes are huge this year, and Questar says Katrina and Rita are only part of the problem. The supply and demand pendulum has been on the demand side for a long time. Getting prices to come down means increasing supply.
Chad Jones, Questar: "The only way to do that is to drill more wells and right now we have some government polices that prevent us from drilling in areas where we know there's gas."
But until then we'll all have to practice what has been preached to us so many times before. Replace the old single-pane windows; weatherstrip; change furnace filters often; use adjustable thermostats, so you're not running the furnace when you're away at work.
You're not going to be able to entirely offset this year's 40 percent increase....
Chad Jones, Questar: "But you can get up to 15 to 20% savings by doing common every day maintenance things and being more mindful of where the thermostat is set."
Questar and the state consumer services division both realize that some people will need help, and there are agencies which can provide it.
Leslie Reberg, Dir. Utah Commision of Consumer Services: "We can direct you to the programs and assist you in getting to those programs and filling out the appropriate paperwork and insuring that you are taken care of in regard to these prices."
The Commission of Consumer Services has hired a consultant to audit the increase requests by Questar and if it sees anything unsual, it will bring it up before the Public Service Commission.
Now, regarding some programs to help with your energy bills, there are a number of websites that can help-- we've linked to them at the right of this story.