Residential Gas Prices over the Marcellus Shale

We continue to experience natural gas price increases in Pennsylvania, partly due to increased LNG exports, even though we sit above the Marcellus Shale, and reside in one of the most heavily fracked counties in Pennsylvania. Below is a chart comparing prices year-over-year, from our recent residential natural gas bill, to the one 12-months ago:

MEASURING NATURAL GAS (Source)
CCF and Therms are ways of measuring natural gas. The Therm is the industry standard used by most natural gas providers in the U.S.

  • CCF and MCF are volumetric measurements of natural gas. The CF in this measurement stands for cubic feet.
    The “C” in CCF stands for the roman number for 100 so “CCF” means 100 cubic feet of natural gas.
    The “M” in MCF stands for Roman numeral for 1,000 so “MCF” means 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas.
  • Therms measure the energy output of a unit of gas. One Therm is the amount of energy or heat equivalent to 100,000 BTU, or British Thermal Units. Natural gas is traded on the wholesale markets as MMBtu, or million BTUs.
  • If you want quick math, it’s generally accepted that burning 100 cubic feet of natural gas (1 CCF) is the energy equivalent of burning one Therm of gas. But the reality is that number is based on the efficiency or “heat content” of the natural gas (see PDF chart below). The Energy Information Administration measures the U.S. annual average heat content of natural gas delivered to consumers at 1,037 British Thermal Units (BTU) per cubic foot (CF) in 2022.
  • If you want the true conversion 100 cubic feet (1 CCF) = 1.037 Therms.
  • Here’s how to convert unit measurements and prices of natural gas:
    $ per CCF divided by 1.037 equals $ per Therm.
    $ per Therm multiplied by 1.037 equals $ per CCF.
Approximate Heat Content of Natural Gas (BTU per Cubic Foot)

Interesting to note that “Exports” are shown at 1.009 which is 97.3% of the average U.S. consumption at 1.037

OUR NATURAL GAS
Over past years, Columbia Gas has been very competitive, if not cheaper, than alternate natural gas suppliers. But since we do have ‘customer choice’ in Pennsylvania, where you can choose your gas supplier, I compared these viable options on November 22, 2022:

LOCAL GAS UTILITIES
The ‘compare to’ price (per Therm) for our local gas utility in Washington County, PA:
Columbia Gas of Pa – $0.74566 per Therm ($0.77325 per CCF)
Peoples Gas Company LLC – $0.81342 per CCF ($0.78440 per Therm)
(For some reason, the PaGasSwitch website uses Therms for Columbia and CCF for Peoples, hence my conversions)

CUSTOMER CHOICE
Using the official website PaGasSwitch I found these alternate suppliers. Selecting a set of options on November 21, 2022 (Fixed Price / 12-month term / No cancellation, deposit, or monthly fee) I found the following prices, but of course these prices are subject to change, and there may be *additional terms and conditions. (Be sure to check current terms and conditions for yourself)

Per Therm:
— Shipley Energy $0.6890
— Verde Energy $0.7590
— Direct Energy $0.8690

THERMS
Since we used 32 Therms during the most recent billing period, the ‘compare to’ cost of our gas effective December 1st is $23.86 while it would be $22.05 with the cheapest supplier (only $1.81 cheaper for the month but the price is locked for 12-months). Since our total bill was $77.95 it’s easy to see that our gas supply cost of $23.86 only made up 31-percent of our bill. Increases in the other 69-percent of the bill, over the past 12-months, are likely due to ongoing gas pipeline replacement on local streets and roads, as well as throughout the Columbia Gas of Pa. network.

NOTE: An air-sourced electric heat pump provided our heat when temperatures were over 40-degrees F. (4.4 Celsius). During October-November, our average daily kWh home usage has been 24kWh. The electric bill will arrive soon and make for further energy comparisons.

Here’s a November 15, 2022 Press Release from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) regarding natural gas and electricity prices, along with more details:

PUC Urges Consumers to Prepare for Rising Winter Energy Costs, Explore Conservation and Affordability Options as Utilities Adjust Supply Prices

Published on 11/15/2022

Encourages Financially Struggling Consumers to #CallUtilitiesNow to Explore Utility Assistance Programs that Help Manage Winter Energy Bills

HARRISBURG – As winter approaches and many utilities adjust their seasonal energy supply prices, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) reminds consumers they have options to manage anticipated higher bills – and stresses that consumers currently struggling to pay monthly bills should act now and seek assistance by contacting their utilities.

As we approach the winter heating season, now is the time for consumers to consider ways to improve energy efficiency and conservation around their home or business, and #CallUtilitiesNow to explore utility assistance programs and discuss other ways to manage bills and stay connected.

Energy Costs

The cost of energy used each month – either electricity or natural gas – is the second key factor in the size of customer bills.  It is important for consumers to understand the two major parts of their monthly electric or natural gas bills:

  • Delivery/distribution charge – This charge includes the cost for the operation and maintenance of the poles, wires, pipelines, and other infrastructure that delivers energy to your home or business. This portion of your monthly bill supports your local utility.
  • Generation/supply charge – This charge covers the cost of the energy (electricity or natural gas) used during the month. This energy cost for this portion of the bill is determined in two ways:  one, by a consumer’s contract with a competitive supplier or two, for consumers who do not shop, the utility provides energy supply at the “Price to Compare” (PTC).

Electric – December 1 PTC Adjustments for Residential Customers

All Pennsylvania regulated electric utilities are adjusting their PTCs on December 1 for residential non-shopping customers.  The PTC averages 40% to 60% of the customer’s total utility bill.  However, this percent varies by utility and by the level of individual customer usage.

Beginning December 1, electric distribution companies report the following changes in their PTCs for residential customers: 

  • Citizens Electric, up from 9.3667 cents to 12.2259 cents per kWh (31%);
  • Duquesne Lightestimated increase from 9.36 cents to 11.25 cents per kWh (20.2%);
  • Met-Ed, up from 9.397 cents to 10.303 cents per kWh (10%);
  • PECO, up from 8.508 cents to 9.855 cents per kWh (15.8%);
  • Penelec, down from 10.021 cents to 9.889 cents per kWh (-1%);
  • Penn Power, up from 10.348 cents to 10.511 cents per kWh (2%);
  • Pike Co. Light & Power, 1 PTC not finalized – currently at 12.8994 cents per kWh;
  • PPL, up from 12.366 cents to 14.612 cents per kWh (18%);
  • UGI Electric, no PTC change on Dec. 1 from the current 12.903 cents per kWh;
  • Wellsboro Electric, up from 9.592 cents to 12.816 cents per kWh (34%); and
  • West Penn Power, up from 8.306 cents to 8.517 cents per kWh (3%).

The PUC notes that electric utilities are required to procure energy at the least possible cost.  However, the Commission does not regulate prices for the generation portion of electric bills.  Generation prices are separate from the closely regulated rates that utilities charge for their distribution services – the delivery of electricity to homes and businesses.

Natural Gas – PTC Changes for Residential Customers

Over the past few months, many of Pennsylvania’s natural gas distribution companies (NGDCs) have also adjusted their PTCs for non-shopping customers – and some NGDCs have seen increases in their purchased gas costs due to current energy market conditions.  Similar to electric, the PTC averages 40% to 60% of the customer’s total utility bill, with the percentage varying by NGDC and by the level of individual customer usage.

The following NGDCs report PTC changes for residential customers: 

  • Columbia Gas of PA, up from $0.32613 to $0.7457 per therm (128%);
  • National Fuel Gas, down from $0.9038 to $0.8778 per Ccf (-2.9%);
  • PECO, down from $0.8346 to $0.8179 per Ccf (-2%);
  • Peoples Natural Gas Co., down from $8.713 to $8.1342 per Mcf (-6.6%);
  • Peoples Gas Co. LLC, down from $8.713 to $8.1342 per Mcf (-6.6%);
  • Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW), down from $0.9381 to $0.8999 per Ccf (-4.2%);
  • UGI Utilities, up from $0.85979 to $0.86063 per Ccf (1%); and
  • Valley Energy, up from $0.41748 to $0.82047 per Ccf (96.5%).

Note:  Changes in the purchased gas costs for PECO, PGW and UGI Utilities are anticipated on December 1.  Any adjusted prices for those utilities will be available soon.

It is important to note that gas utilities are required to provide reliable natural gas service at the least possible cost.  Every natural gas utility company is routinely audited by the PUC to ensure the Gas Cost Recovery they are passing on to their consumers reflects the costs the company paid and that every effort was made to purchase the natural gas for the least possible price.

#CallUtilitiesNow to Explore Customer Assistance Programs

The PUC continues to encourage struggling consumers to #CallUtilitiesNow, noting that direct conversations between struggling customers and utilities are the best “first step” in addressing outstanding bill balances and discussing utility assistance programs.

Public utilities are the first and most direct mechanisms to link struggling households with much-needed assistance. Utilities understand the assistance programs available in their communities for income-qualified consumers – including utility-run Customer Assistance Programs, national programs like the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and various hardship fund programs operated by utilities and non-profit organizations.

#CallUtilitiesNow is the best way to identify what help may be available to you. Also, be sure to call all your utilities: electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, and telecommunications because each may have different programs or resources available.

Utilities also can help enroll consumers in assistance programs, guide them to other available resources and discuss new payment plan options to address overdue balances and help consumers move forward.

Managing Energy Usage

Energy usage is a key factor in the size of winter energy bills, and there are many ways that consumers can control that usage.  Energy saving tips include:

  • Pay attention to the thermostat – Every degree you raise or lower the temperature could impact energy costs by up to 3%. Also, consider a programmable thermostat to automatically lower temperatures while you are away from home.
  • Have your furnace serviced – Regular furnace maintenance along with clean air filters help ensure efficient operation of your heating system.
  • Insulate and seal leaks around your home – Adding insulation, installing storm windows and doors, and sealing cracks and air leaks can help you stay warmer and use less energy.
  • Install or repair ceiling fans in high-trafficked rooms – Many people can reverse the direction of ceiling fans to clockwise to produce an updraft and move warmer air near the ceiling downward, keeping the room and you warmer.
  • Consider resetting your water heater thermostat – Water heaters are the second highest source of energy usage in the home, and many people have the thermostat on their water heater set too high.  Setting the temperature on your water heater a few degrees cooler can help save money on your energy bills.

The PUC’s electric shopping website PAPowerSwitch.comand natural gas shopping website PAGasSwitch.com have interactive sections with more easy consumer tips for saving energy.

LIHEAP

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) for the 2022-23 winter heating season opened on Nov. 1, 2022.

Pennsylvanians can apply for LIHEAP and other public assistance programs online at www.compass.state.pa.us or by phone at 1-866-550-4355. On-site County Assistance Office (CAO) services are available if clients cannot access online services or need assistance that cannot be accessed through the COMPASS website, the myCOMPASS PA mobile app, or by calling the Customer Service Centers at 215-560-7226 for Philadelphia clients or 1-877-395-8930 for clients in all other counties.

Understanding Your Electric Supplier’s Contract

Consumers who have contracts with competitive suppliers should make sure that they understand all terms and conditions contained in their supplier contract.  The terms and conditions are found in the contract’s disclosure statement – including but not limited to the contract’s expiration date and any terms and conditions for terminating a contract.

Consumers who signed up with competitive energy suppliers last winter – perhaps for the first time – could be approaching the end of those contracts. It is important to understand your options at the end of a contract, as well as the importance of taking action to avoid any surprising changes in energy prices.

Consumers that already have an agreement with an electric supplier and want to switch to a different supplier, or return to default service with their electric utility, should carefully review their contract’s disclosure statement to see if there are any penalty/switching fees or cancellation fees.  Call your current supplier if you are not sure.

Additionally, consumers should be aware that at the end of a supplier’s contract, they will receive two contract renewal notices:  an Initial Notice 45-60 days prior to the contract’s expiration date; and then an Options Notice at least 30 days prior to the end of the contract. 

After receiving a second contract renewal notice, consumers should not stay silent and make sure to choose one of the options mentioned in the notice.  If a customer fails to respond with one of these options, they may automatically remain with the current supplier on a month-to-month basis without any early termination fees.

Customers who have questions about the end of their contract should contact their current supplier and, if there is a problem, then contact the PUC’s Bureau of Consumer Services at 1-800-692-7380.  More information on understanding a contract with an electric generation supplier and electric switching can be found here on PAPowerSwitch.com.

Source

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IN OTHER NEWS:

U.S. natgas jumps 8% on colder forecast, possible rail strike
U.S. natural gas futures jumped about 8% to a two-week high on Monday on forecasts for colder weather and stronger heating demand this week than previously expected, and worries a possible rail strike could disrupt coal deliveries and force power generators to burn more gas. Traders also noted the expected restart of the 2.1-billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) Freeport LNG’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plant in Texas in mid December, if it happens, would boost demand for gas in coming weeks. Front-month gas futures for December delivery rose 47.3 cents, or 7.5%, to settle at $6.776 per mmBtu, putting the contract on track for its highest close since Nov. 7.

EPA orders Ohio power plant to stop dumping toxic coal ash
The order to the Gen. James Gavin Power Plant in southern Ohio marks the first time the EPA has formally denied a utility’s request to continue disposing toxic coal ash after a deadline to stop such disposal has passed. The Gavin plant, located along the Ohio River in Cheshire, Ohio, is one of the largest coal-fired electricity plants in the U.S. At least five other plants, most in the Midwest, face similar action by the EPA under a crackdown proposed in January.

GM Has a New Business: Fixing Tesla EVs
General Motors said something surprising at its investor day in New York City on Thursday. Fixing Teslas is a growing business for the 114 year-old auto maker. That’s right. GM (ticker: GM) dealers are fixing Teslas. Since 2021, GM dealers have fixed more than 11,000 electric vehicles from Tesla (TSLA), according to GM President Mark Reuss.

More Reason to Take Fracking Quakes Seriously
In the past ten days, North America’s oil and gas industry rattled key geological formations with earthquakes in British Columbia and Texas. Damage from the U.S. quake, the third largest in Texas’s history, closed a major building in San Antonio and demonstrated that frack-triggered tremors can threaten structures even hundreds of kilometres away from the epicentre. Starting on Nov. 11, Canada’s Montney Formation, a key source of methane and natural gas liquids straddling B.C. and Alberta, experienced three earthquakes measuring over four on the Richter magnitude scale. On Nov. 11 a quake registering 4.7 struck 140 km north of Fort St John in northeastern B.C. The province’s fracking regulator, the BC Oil and Gas Commission, told the Tyee that drilling by Malaysian-owned Petronas triggered the tremor and a cluster of others. As more earthquakes ensued, the Petronas operation was ordered to shut down but then restarted before again stopping when another quake topping four in magnitude struck on Nov. 15.

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