Letters From the West

Natural gas bills rise as demand from power plants grows

A gas flare during a test of a natural gas well near New Plymouth owned by Snake River Oil and Gas.

A gas flare during a test of a natural gas well near New Plymouth owned by Snake River Oil and Gas.

Your gas bill is going up in part because demand from natural gas-fired electric plants has driven up the price.

It’s still cheap compared to before 2005 but the cost adjustment price hike approved by the Idaho Public Utilities Commission is the first since 2008. Intermountain Gas serves 320,000 customers throughout southern Idaho.

For a customer who uses natural gas for home and water heating the increase is about $1.85 per month.

Customers who use natural gas for space heating only the average monthly increase is 68 cents. For commercial customers, the increase is about $14.18 per month, the PUC said in a press release.

The rate hike comes from the annual Purchased Gas Cost Adjustment, based on the changing costs of natural gas supply, transportation and storage. Intermountain Gas earnings do not increase because of the cost adjustment.

Last year the price dropped 7.1 percent. The big drop came in 2009 at 22 percent.

Northwest Pipeline raised its price to transport the gas and the uptick in the economy an increase demand drove the gas price up. The huge increase in supply from the tapping of shale gas reserves with fracking is still keeping the price down.

Over the long term, the big uncertainty is if the U.S. is going to allow the natural gas industry to export the nation’s natural gas bounty. The gas industry says it will increase jobs and drilling while critics say by keeping prices low here, it can attract manufacturers back to our shores.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West