Will there be fewer holiday lights this season in Wisconsin?More woodburning fires? Wisconsin Public Service Corp., a unit ofWPS Resources Corp., warned Friday that its natural gas customersmay see a 17% hike in their energy bills this month because of thelatest increase in wholesale gas prices. WPSC said that its averageresidential customer would pay nearly 57% more overall this yearthan last, about $50 total.

Seven months ago, WPSC issued its early warning that priceswould be higher this winter, and in September, it reported thatspikes in wholesale prices would push the cost even more for its224,058 natural gas customers. It also serves 381,192 electriccustomers in Northeastern and Central Wisconsin adjacent to UpperMichigan.

Pat Fox, the company’s superintendent of gas supply andtransportation, said that it had bought and stored about one thirdof its expected winter consumption to prevent having to rely on thespot market. He said the plan was to mix the stored gas with newpurchases to offset the price. However, lower production and higherconsumption during the summer sent wholesale prices up and forcedWPSC to pay more to replenish winter supplies.

Although the news for customers was not good, WPSC’s parent WPSResources last week raised its full-year earnings forecast to arange of $2.50 to $2.60 per share, up from $2.40 to $2.50. WPSreported that improved cost controls and strong sales in certaindivisions would edge up the earnings.

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