AmerenUE filed for a new natural gas rate Thursday that, if approved, could mean a 7 percent increase in gas bills over last winter for the average residential customer, according to AmerenUE spokesman Mike Cleary.
If Ameren’s non-gas rate increase, proposed in May, is also approved this year, the total increase in a monthly residential gas bill could be roughly $18 for the average consumer.
The Public Service Commission is expected to approve, suspend or extend the proposed natural gas rates this week. The commission will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Boone County Government Center to discuss the separate non-gas increase, and it must decide on that rate before May.
“We have been sounding an alarm since March for higher bills,” said Warren Wood, energy department manager at the Public Service Commission. Wood said a dramatically colder winter would mean an increase of more than 7 percent on local gas bills.
“The long-range outlook for the winter season has us at an equal chance of seeing an above-normal or below-normal temperature this winter,” said Eric Aldrich, meteorologist at KOMU/Channel 8 and an air quality meteorologist at the Department of Natural Resources. “It’s the same for precipitation.”
Whether the winter is colder or warmer, all residents can make their homes more energy-efficient.
Dave Mars of the Columbia Water and Light Department has visited more than 9,500 Columbia houses and apartments during his 16 years running the city’s home-energy-efficiency audit program. He also provides free weatherization supplies, such as water-saving devices and rope caulking for window edges.
“I’m constantly surprised at how much work still needs to be done here,” Mars said. “I still find homes with hardly any insulation.”
Water and Light also offers low-interest loans — at less than 3 percent — for residents or rental owners who want to upgrade furnaces, install new insulation or make other such improvements.
Higher wholesale gas prices and low amounts of storage coupled with high demand have increased the purchased gas adjustment, or PGA. This number determines projected gas costs per 100 cubic feet. According to Wood, wholesale natural gas prices affect certain purchase contracts which, when combined with other factors such as the amount of gas in storage and fixed price contracts, affect the PGA.
This year’s proposed PGA is 71.9 cents per 100 cubic feet, compared with last winter’s rate of 65 cents per 100 cubic feet.