As the mercury falls, gas and electric prices rise

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 2, 2001

Rising natural gas prices and colder temperatures are forcing both natural gas and electric bills higher for many Miss-Lou customers – and higher rates on the way.

The price of natural gas rose from $2.70 per unit in May to a current price of $9.625 per unit. And due in part to cold weather – and, in turn, high demand – the price of natural gas is not expected to fall in the next several weeks.

Jerry Moore, general manager of Mississippi Valley Gas in Natchez, said the higher cost is passed on to customers. For example, one Valley Gas customer had a November bill of $36.14 and a December bill of $227.13.

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In Vidalia, minimum rates for natural gas rose by $4 per month per customer beginning in November due to rising natural gas costs. Prices for butane and propane gas are also rising. Ira Cleveland, manager of Natchez Butane, said the company’s cost for natural gas had risen by at least 40 percent in the last year, while consumers’ costs had risen at least 10 percent.

&uot;Our costs are soaring, but we don’t want to go up that high on (prices to customers), so our profit margin is shrinking,&uot; said David Davenport of Natchez Butane.

Louisiana Gas Service Co. customers are paying exactly what the company pays for its gas – almost $10 per unit, said Ricky Burke, the propane corporation’s general manager.

&uot;It’s a pass-through to the customer. We don’t earn any profit off it,&uot; he said. &uot;The $10 figure is unprecedented, but unless something changes dramatically, it’s not going to come down in the foreseeable future.&uot;

Prices for electricity are also rising because much electricity is generated using natural gas.

A hot summer followed by cold temperatures created an energy shortage that forced Entergy to purchase power from other companies.

As a result, Entergy Mississippi customers will see a 9 percent increase in their bills starting this month, said Customer Service Manager Forest Persons. But that increase probably will not be seen for several more months, he added.

Although Entergy’s cost to produce energy increased by 30 percent last year, Persons said the company plans to spread the cost over several years – and meanwhile, hope for lower gas prices.

The 9 percent fuel adjustment charge was approved by the Mississippi Public Service Commission last week and is less than the 10 to 15 percent increase that was expected, Persons said.

Fuel adjustment charges for Entergy Louisiana customers, including residents of the Ferriday area and most of Tensas Parish, have also increased.

That charge went up from 2.182 cents per kilowatt-hour in December 1999 to 4.761 cents last month. That means that the bill of a customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours of power rose by $25.79 a month during that period.

&uot;That changes every month&uot; due to the fluctuating cost of producing power, said Customer Service Manager Reggie Smith. &uot;But we don’t see it going down any time soon.&uot;

Concordia Electric customers have good news, however.

That cooperative, which serves much of Concordia and Catahoula parishes and Sicily Island, just signed a long-term contract last April for coal-generated power.

&uot;That’s the cheapest power you can get,&uot;&160;said Billy Harris, general manager of Concordia Electric, adding that that helps stabilize rates.