Sempra Energy’s two California utilities last week predicted “moderated” natural gas prices and alerted their customers in the southern half of the state that they should see lower heating bills this winter compared to last year when the post-hurricane fall-winter was punctuated by record high wholesale prices for gas. Residential customers for Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas and Electric Co. can expect monthly bills in the $80-$85 and $60-$65 ranges, respectively.

Prices nationwide have been moderated by a combination of mild weather, high storage inventories and no production losses from hurricanes this season as compared to last year at this time, said Michelle Mueller, customer service vice president for the two utilities.

Sempra added the caveat in the utility messages to customers that “unpredictable severe cold weather in the United States can boost demand and prices and, consequently, customer bills. The utilities urged continued energy-saving steps to keep down winter bills, emphasizing utility weatherization and rebate programs.

“The [Sempra utilities] actively seek to ensure reliable supplies of natural gas and low prices by maintaining adequate natural storage inventories, buying gas in large volumes at competitive prices, and purchasing gas in the lower-cost supply producing regions,” a company spokesperson said.

For SoCalGas, residential customers using an average of 75 therms in a month paid about $98 last winter, compared with the $80-$85 range expected this year; apartment dwellers using about 30 therms are looking at about $35 monthly bills this winter, compared to about $40 last winter; and small businesses using an average of 300 therms monthly will face bills in the $325-$345 range, compared with an average of $407/month last winter for the same volumes.

For SDG&E, average winter use is set at 50 therms, which cost about $74/month last winter, but should drop to the $60-$65 range this year. Combined gas and electric bills should run about $133 to $135 this winter, compared with $143/month last winter. Apartment residents and small business are looking at $30 and $350 monthly gas bills this winter, compared with $36/month and $429/month, respectively, last winter.

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