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Sempra Utilities, PG&E Crank Up Gas in Midst of Cold

With temperatures hitting record lows statewide, Sempra Energy's two utilities covering the southern half of California reported Tuesday sending out substantially larger amounts of natural gas to residential and small business customers over the three-day Martin Luther King holiday weekend. Both Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas and Electric Co. expect demand for January to be more than 20% higher than the same month a year ago.

While warning customers that higher gas bills will be coming, the two utilities also noted some relief from the fact that wholesale natural gas costs are down 32% to 40% for their customers.

In response to a query from NGI, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said its systemwide deliveries were up about 30%, compared with last year at the same time, but for the month of January demand was expected to be about the same as a year earlier. Daily sendout ranged from 3.55 Bcf/d to 3.93 Bcf/d over the past three-day weekend in the northern half of the state, compared to a level of about 2.36 Bcf/d for the King weekend in 2006.

SoCalGas reported its residential and small business customers used 2.9 Bcf/d over the three-day weekend in which nighttime lows along the coast and in downtown Los Angeles were near freezing and in the inland valleys dipped below 10 degrees Fahrenheit in some spots. Mountain lows were at zero. This daily demand for the residential/small business customers, which in numbers make up more than 5 million meters, last year for the same period was 1.8 Bcf/d.

"Because of the colder-than-normal weather over the past few days, customer demand is forecast to increase by 22% in January compared with the same period last year," said Michelle Mueller, Sempra utilities' customer service vice president, who noted that the weekend increase amounted to a 60% increase in demand this year compared to the King weekend last year.

SDG&E reported record low temperatures even in the southern-most and usually the most temperate parts of the state, driving up residential and small business customer demand to an average of 371 MMcf/d, compared with 318 MMcf/d for the same period last year. SDG&E expects January demand overall to be 20% higher than the same month in 2006.

While usage is up due to the cold weather, natural gas prices this winter are 40% and 32% lower than last year at this time for SoCalGas and SDG&E, respectively, Mueller said. "So while bills likely will rise as a result of the usage, the increase will be mitigated by the reduced cost of natural gas," she said.

Both utilities urged customers to try to mitigate the future high bills with various voluntary steps, such as lowering thermostats, checking furnace filters and using extra blankets. They also reminded qualifying low-income customers to seek help with their gas bills through California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) and other related programs.

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