Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy’s Colorado utility said Wednesday its first quarter natural gas retail rates will decline by as much as 4% next year, compared to the first quarter of 2009. Overall, gas rates will drop by $14.3 million under the Xcel utility’s quarterly gas cost adjustment (QGCA) process overseen by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

Xcel filed a rider with the PUC, and if approved, new rates would be effective Jan. 1. Increases and decreases in the wholesale cost of natural gas through the QGCA process are passed along to customer on a dollar-for-dollar basis, the utility said.

The breakdown for residential customers using about 113 therms is a new rate of 5.709 cents/therm, or a monthly bill of about $86.70, compared with a rate in the first quarter of 2009 of 5.969 cents/therm, and a monthly bill of nearly $90. For small business customers using an average of slightly more than 500 therms/month, the new rate will be 5.732 cents/therm, or a monthly bill of a little more than $375, compared with a 5.957 cents/therm rate and nearly $389 monthly bill in the first quarter this year.

Residential and small business customers no longer pay the same therm price each quarter, said an Xcel spokesperson, who noted the QGCA now differs the class load factors of residential and small business premises.

“Extremely mild weather in most of the United States in November kept demand for natural gas for the month lower than expected, which resulted in natural gas storage levels that are much higher than last year’s levels and the five-year average,” said the Xcel spokesperson. “Higher storage levels have resulted in a decline in future prices compared to the first quarter of 2009.”

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