Natural gas prices are lower than we expected. It can still cost more to heat your home this winter.

At first, it looked like natural gas prices this winter could reach levels not seen in years, resulting in higher gas bills at a time when many still struggle financially because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Warmer temperatures in recent weeks, including in Colorado, have lowered the demand for natural gas for heating, according to S&P Global. While this has driven market prices down, state regulators and consumer advocates still expect Coloradans to see their gas bills increase early next year.

The instability of the global gas market and the climate worries members of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, who say regional utilities are not doing enough to pressure gas suppliers to control prices.

“We have become fat, stupid and happy over the past twelve years with relatively stable gas prices,” Commissioner John C. Gavan told the board this month. “I think we are fundamentally entering a new era where we can count on more volatility in the future.”

The commissioners said they would reconsider the process the utilities followed to revise gas tariffs. Gavan said the decision was necessary given the unpredictable weather conditions, driven, in part, by climate change and proposals from larger utilities like Xcel Energy to generate more energy using natural gas.

“There is going to be more competition for an increasingly scarce resource,” he said.

Prices may not increase as much as expected, but they will always be higher

Colorado’s four investor-owned gas utilities, including Xcel Energy and Black Hills Energy Gas, submitted reports to the commission last month predicting a spike in natural gas prices that would be passed on to taxpayers. Xcel Energy, which has 1.4 million natural gas customers statewide, estimated that the average household gas bill in March would increase 57% from last winter, mainly due to ‘an expected increase in natural gas prices.

Utilities have since changed their projections to reflect falling gas prices. Atmos Energy, which has 124,000 customers in the state, has withdrawn its request to change its gas prices. Xcel now predicts that average residential bills will rise 37%, a monthly increase of $ 26.57 from last winter, according to company spokesperson Matthew Lindstrom.

Although the company says Colorado customer bills are lower than national averages, consumer advocates are still concerned about what the increase will mean for residents who live on a fixed income.

“The income inequality that we see in this country is only growing exponentially,” said Jennifer Gremmert, executive director of Energy Outreach Colorado, a nonprofit that provides billing assistance to residents. “The pressure is on this low to moderate income household. “

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