Coming to grips with the new natural gas market landscape that features plenty of supply thanks to bountiful shale production and lackluster demand due to the current prolonged economic rut, some natural gas and electric utilities across the country are presenting their customers with early holiday gifts in the form of lower energy bills.

The often volatile natural gas market, which through its history has been known to spike on anything from hurricane fears and storage fluctuations to regulatory changes, has been a much more subdued market over the last few years. The economic slowdown, tied with increased shale gas production in states such as Texas and Pennsylvania, has allayed supply concerns, which has brought gas prices steadily lower, even during the high-gas demand winter months.

According to NGI‘s Bidweek Survey, natural gas prices have come off significantly over the last five years. According to NGI data, the November bidweek price at the Henry Hub in southern Louisiana averaged $7.28/MMBtu in 2007. It declined to $6.47/MMBtu in November 2008 and $4.28/MMBtu in November 2009, before hitting $3.29/MMBtu in the November 2010 report. November bidweek 2011 showed a small uptick to $3.52/MMBtu.

Utilities are passing through these decreases to customers.

New Jersey ‘s oldest and largest regulated gas and electric delivery utility, Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE&G), announced Monday that it is lowering residential gas bills by an additional 4.6%, or nearly $8.53 per winter month for the typical residential customer. The utility noted that Monday’s action represents the eighth decrease in a row for residential customers, for a total of more than $614, or 35%, in savings since January 2009. The price reduction takes effect Dec. 1.

The utility said lower market prices for gas, which are “partially due to the availability of abundant and lower-cost shale gas,” are making it possible for PSE&G to pass these cost savings along to customers. Under the new supply gas rates, a typical residential gas heating customer who uses 160 therms in a winter month, or 1,050 therms annually, will see a decrease in their annual bill of $56, or approximately 4.6%. This customer’s annual bill will be reduced to $1,151.22 from $1,207.20 and their monthly winter bill will be $173.97, the utility, which serves nearly three-quarters of the state’s population, estimates. A residential gas heating customer who uses 100 therms in a winter month, or 660 therms annually, will see a decrease in their annual bill of $35 or about 4.5%. This customer’s annual bill will be reduced to $750.07 from $785.25 . Their monthly winter bill will be $110.95.

“The eight decreases over three years, including the additional 4.6% now, will provide a much needed positive impact for our customers in these challenging times,” said Joseph A. Forline , PSE&G vice president for customer operations.

Also on Monday, Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) said it has revised its anticipated 2012 fuel costs downward by approximately $460 million and filed notice with the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC). FPL is the largest electric utility in Florida serving 4.5 million customer accounts.

If the lower rate is approved by the PSC, the amount that a 1,000-kWh FPL residential customer will pay monthly for fuel in 2012 will drop by $4.53 compared to the company’s previous projection. This reduction in the fuel charge, in combination with adjustments to other components of the bill, will produce a net decrease on a typical FPL customer’s monthly bill of about $2, from $96.54 in December 2011 to $94.62 beginning in January 2012.

“The prices of fossil fuels on the world markets can be volatile, and fluctuations can make a significant impact on our customers’ bills. For 2012, oil prices are still high, but our investments in recent years to modernize our power plant fleet — phasing out older, oil-fired units with cleaner, more efficient natural gas-fired generating capacity — are helping protect our customers from higher fuel charges,” said FPL CEO Armando J. Olivera. “At the same time, market prices of natural gas for 2012 are trending even lower than previously expected, and this is driving a significant reduction in our projected fuel costs for the coming year.”

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