Tuesday, October 14, 2003
Atmos Energy has been warning its customers all fall of an impending increase in the price of natural gas. On Tuesday, the company reversed its gloomy forecast and announced it has filed with the Colorado Public Utilities commission for a 1 percent decrease in the rate it will charge customers in Northwest Colorado this winter.
A company spokeswoman said Atmos' ability to gradually purchase 50 percent of its winter supply over the summer at rates lower than anticipated contributed to its ability to avoid a price increase.
"This put us in a very good position to reduce rates," said Atmos public affairs manager Karen Wilkes. "I'm sure some of this comes as a surprise."
Wilkes appeared before the Steamboat Springs City Council one month ago to prepare local officials for a potential rate increase in the range of 10 percent to 15 percent on top of the 48-percent rate increase the company was granted last spring. Wilkes pointed out that Atmos does not profit from the rate it charges for natural gas -- instead, it passes the price it pays to consumers without a mark up.
Another significant factor in the rate reduction is the fact that Atmos found it had overcharged its customers during the course of the summer. This winter's rates will effectively rebate that overcharge, said Joe Christian, Atmos vice president of rates and regulations for the Colorado/Kansas region.
The cost of gas, including additional charges for delivering it to Steamboat Springs using other companies' pipelines, accounts for about 75 percent of consumers' gas bills in Northwest Colorado.
The gas price adjustment, if approved by the PUC, would decrease the current residential gas rate from 72 cents per 100 cubic feet to 71 cents. The price charged to commercial customers would go down from 70 cents to 69 cents.
Despite the fact that the price of natural gas is poised to go down Nov. 1, residential customers will pay considerably more for natural gas to heat their homes and their laundries during the coldest months of this winter than they did last winter.
In Northwest Colorado, the average residential customer uses 910 cubic feet of gas per year. In 2002-2003 that amount of gas would have cost the consumer $551. This year, it is expected to cost the consumer $756. January is the coldest month, with the average monthly residential consumption jumping to 160 cubic feet. Last winter, 160 cubic feet of gas cost $87. This year, it will jump to $123.
Wilkes said there remains a chance that volatile natural gas prices will spike again before the end of winter.
"We remain concerned for our customers," she said.
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