With wholesale natural gas prices trending only one way in the wake of the two Gulf of Mexico hurricanes, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in San Francisco has established a monthly “Natural Gas Watch” bulletin, and its latest issue Friday cited average retail gas utility bills for its customers in October being up by $17.45/month, compared with October last year. That represents an increase of 70.8%, according to the combination utility.

“The economic impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita will be felt on natural gas bills in October,” said the PG&E utility’s bulletin. “”While natural gas costs have been climbing in recent years because of growing demand for the fuel, the hurricanes’ devastation of natural gas facilities in the Gulf of Mexico caused prices to surge nationally.”

Hitting at the nation’s energy heartland, PG&E’s utility said currently 72% of 819 manned natural gas platforms in the Gulf were still off-line as of Friday (Sept. 30), “curtailing 80% of the daily gas production in the region.” After October, the utility said the level of price increases realized is expected to begin to drop in succeeding months.

“PG&E is currently estimating that natural gas bills for December and January will be 40%-50% higher than they were in those same months last year,” the utility said. “While the price of natural gas in California is high, costs in the other parts of the country have surged even more , with some utilities reporting bill increases in the triple digits,” PG&E’s utility bulletin said.

Last year, PG&E said its average residential October gas utility bill was $24.65; it is projecting an average bill this October of $42.10 for the month for a typical residential customer.

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