Lower natural gas prices are helping to trim winter bills for many customers across Ohio and Pennsylvania this year, although one company has said its customers will see a 5% increase.

Dominion East Ohio and Columbia Gas of Ohio each set rates for their standard choice option (SCO) by adding predetermined amounts to natural gas prices set on the New York Mercantile Exchange (Nymex). Based on recent Nymex closing prices, Dominion’s SCO rate for January-February will be $3.95/Mcf, an 8% decrease from December-January, and Columbia’s January SCO rate will be about 7% less than the company’s December rate.

In Pennsylvania, EQT Corp. subsidiary Equitable Gas. Co. has said it will charge $6.05/Mcf over the next three months, a 3.5% decrease from $6.27/Mcf in 1Q2012 and Peoples Natural Gas’ 1Q2013 rate is $4.62/Mcf, a 10.5% decrease from $5.16/Mcf in 1Q2012. Peoples’ parent, SteelRiver Infrastructure Partners, announced last month that it is acquiring Equitable from EQT in exchange for $720 million and “select midstream assets and commercial arrangements” in the Marcellus Shale region (see Daily GPI, Dec. 21).

Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania, on the other hand, has said it expects typical residential bills to increase about 5% compared with 1Q2012. And rates for the utility’s customers may continue to climb; Columbia has asked the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) to approve an annual revenue increase of $77.3 million in order to recover investments required to upgrade its underground natural gas distribution facilities.

Despite low gas prices, the PUC has approved some recent rate increase requests. Last month the PUC voted to approve a 7.3% increase to the annual gas rate for Clarion County’s Pine Roe Gas Co. The primary reason for the increase, Pine Roe said, was that it had underestimated the cost of purchased gas from its non-affiliated gas supplier.

Whatever rate they are being charged, utility customers across much of the northern United States can expect to use more natural gas this winter, based on forecasts that call for colder-than-normal temperatures over the next three months (see Daily GPI, Dec. 27).

The Energy Information Administration has said it expects U.S. households, one-half of which use natural gas as their primary heating fuel, to spend an average of $89 more this winter, reflecting a 1% increase in the average residential price from last winter and a 14% hike in consumption if near-normal (cold) temperatures materialize for the upcoming winter (see Daily GPI, Oct. 11). Winter was unseasonably warm last year, resulting in little additional demand and weak prices.

©Copyright 2013Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news reportmay not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in anyform, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.