Soaring gas prices in two of the last three winters have prompted the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) in Illinois to call for state regulatory action to encourage the state’s utilities to improve their risk management practices.

CUB, a non-profit utility watchdog group created by the Illinois legislature to represent the interests of residential and small-business utility consumers, wants state regulators to create a new risk management policy that would give Illinois utilities gas-buying guidelines to protect consumers from extreme price spikes.

“Consumers should not have to suffer through the wild price fluctuations of Illinois’ natural gas roller coaster,” CUB Litigation Director Robert Kelter said. “The ICC can take action to protect consumers from this rate shock.”

Kelter is testifying on this issue Tuesday before the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) along with representatives of the State Attorney General’s Office and Illinois utilities.

Last week, CUB Executive Director Martin Cohen sent a letter to ICC Chairman Edward Hurley asking the commission to launch an investigation into how it can give Illinois utilities general guidelines on hedging, or buying strategies that ensure relatively stable natural gas prices.

A CUB review of natural gas prices from seven major utilities in Illinois shows an average price of about 70 cents per therm in March, compared with an average of about 39 cents per therm a year ago. MidAmerican Energy and Nicor Gas top the list, charging about 88 cents per therm and 83 cents per therm, respectively, this March. The prices were even higher in the winter of 2000-2001, when some utilities charged consumers as high as $1 per therm.

Utilities are supposed to pass on the cost of natural gas with no markup, but Illinois law requires them to use prudent gas-buying strategies to secure the lowest price possible.

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