Gas heating prices keep hitting winter lows in Pa.

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HARRISBURG — About two-thirds of the Pennsylvanians who heat their homes with natural gas are heading into December paying the lowest prices in a decade for this time of year, according to rate information from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.


Gas prices for six out of the 10 largest regulated utilities are at their lowest December price since 2003. Those utilities include Columbia Gas, National Fuel Gas, Peco, People’s, Philadelphia Gas Works and UGI Penn.


Utilities credit the huge volume of gas being produced from the Marcellus Shale formation underneath Pennsylvania for pushing down prices. In most cases, prices this December are less than half what they were in December 2008, when the drilling boom was just beginning.


Peco’s three-month winter price, which took effect Sunday, means a customer will see an average monthly bill of just under $160, or almost $3 less per month than last winter, spokesman Ben Armstrong said.


The utility is reaching out to people who live along gas mains to encourage them to switch. Incentives include helping foot the cost to extend a line to a home and appliance rebates, Armstrong said.


Natural gas is Pennsylvania’s most prevalent home heating fuel, used in more than half of the state’s nearly 5 million households. In the past decade, the number of natural gas customers in Pennsylvania, including businesses, has grown from about 2.5 million to nearly 3 million.


The lows may not last all winter at all utilities.


Columbia, People’s and Equitable will be able to adjust their price for the three months beginning Jan. 1, while National Fuel Gas and People’s TWP can adjust their three-month price on Feb. 1.


In addition, the Energy Information Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Energy, is forecasting that wholesale natural gas prices will rise this winter by 10 percent for home heating in the northeastern United States.


Analyst Sean Hill of the Energy Information Administration said he expects wholesale prices to rise in 2014 slightly over 2013 now that a glut of natural gas that kept 2012 prices low has eased, exploration companies have slowed production and demand is expected to rise gradually.


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