With natural gas prices continuing to remain lofty, Americans should prepare themselves for higher utility bills this winter heating season, according to a new survey conducted by NUS Consulting Group. The annual survey found that the average price of natural gas nationwide increased by 4.3% from the period of September 2003 to September 2004.

The independent Park Ridge, NJ-based consulting company found that, depending upon rate classification, the average price of natural gas to the end user in the United States ranged between 65.2 cents to 76.4 cents per therm in September 2004 compared with 61.8 cents to 75.5 cents per therm in September 2003.

The survey was formed by sampling 12 investor-owned utility companies in the United States using models of monthly usage ranging between 100,000 therms to 1,000,000 therms and encompassing both firm and interruptible supplies. The survey found customers of PSE&G in New Jersey paid the highest rates for their natural gas supplies with firm prices reported between 92.2 cents and $1.18 per therm.

TXU Gas & Electric in Texas was next on the high price list with firm prices ranging between 67 and 88.4 cents per therm. The largest single increase for the time frame went to Consumers Energy in Michigan, where some customers witnessed their costs increasing by nearly 40%.

“I believe this survey confirms what many consumers already knew — natural gas prices are reaching historic levels,” said Richard Soultanian, co-president of the NUS Consulting Group. “It is also important to bear in mind that the average increase in pricing of 4.3% reported in this year’s survey is on top of the unprecedented 63% increase experienced between Sept. 2002 to Sept. 2003.”

The lowest-priced utilities in the survey were Northern Illinois Gas, which had firm prices ranging between 59.8 and 64.8 cents per therm, and Southern California Gas, which reported between 62.5 and 65.1 cents per therm. The most significant drop in pricing during the time period came from certain natural gas customers in Pacific Gas & Electric’s territory in Northern California. The annual decrease reported was 10.4%.

“In the United States as throughout the world, the demand for natural gas is steadily increasing, and as supply grows ever tighter, a return to low prices and abundant supplies is almost certainly out of the question,” said Soultanian.

More information on NUS Consulting and its survey can be accessed at www.nusconsulting.com.

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