Despite a continuing downward trend the past eight months, natural gas prices will be heading back up, and customers are urged to take advantage of various utility energy efficiency programs, Sempra Energy’s Southern California Gas Co. said in a prepared announcement for customers released Monday. Customers now “benefiting from significantly lower natural gas prices,” can save even more if they kick in some energy-savings programs, the nation’s largest gas utility said.

Average gas costs last November of $1.09 a therm had dipped to 55 cents/th this month, SoCalGas said in its announcement, noting that is still above historical averages. “Customers can still save money by using energy more efficiently, even at today’s lower prices,” said Anne Shen Smith, the utility’s senior vice president for customer services. “Our energy rebates and incentives can provide hundreds of dollars in savings for residential customers, and up to $525,000 for businesses.”

Smith said the gas utility’s forecast is that despite the recent decline in wholesale gas prices, an upward trend is expected across the country in the foreseeable future, and thus, “energy efficiency is a good investment in managing energy costs.”

In the 2004-2005 period, SoCalGas energy-efficiency programs saved about 26 million therms — enough energy to meet the needs of more than 48,000 homes for a year, Smith said. Along with savings by customers in other parts of the state, California utilities overall have provided “important benefits” to the whole state, Smith said.

The state’s goal for the immediate future for energy efficiency is between now and 2008 to cut global warming greenhouse gases (GHG) by an estimated 3.4 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). That is the equivalent of taking 650,000 cars off the road.

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