DECATUR — Savvy shopping by Ameren Illinois means Central Illinois families have less reason to fear their natural gas bills this winter.
The utility announced average gas prices are expected to be 53 to 55 cents per therm in the 2013-14 heating season. That’s down 5 percent from the 57 cents a therm the utility’s more than 800,000 natural gas users paid over the 2012-13 period.
Ameren Illinois said it locked in lower prices with a carefully planned buying strategy that secured future supplies at favorable rates.
“We bought natural gas when prices were low and stored it for use this winter,” said Ken Dothage, the utility’s gas supply director. “Those savings are passed on to our customers.”
Gas prices have produced a constant stream of good news in recent years as the cost trend, fueled by new supplies coming online in a slow economy, has remained persistently down. Central Illinois customers were paying 62 cents per therm to run their furnaces in the 2011-12 heating season, for example.
Recent mild winter temperatures also served to deflate demand, but Ameren Illinois is warning customers they could still be in for some unpleasant surprises in the mailbox if this winter sees a return to more normal frigid conditions.
“Just because the price goes down a little, you are still going to have larger bills if you use more gas,” Ameren Illinois spokeswoman Stacey Shangraw said.
“We were very fortunate that prices dropped a little bit last winter, and we also had a very mild winter as well. But this winter may not be so mild.”
She said the utility continues to urge customers to save where they can by doing simple upgrades such as fitting programmable thermostats that give more control over heat settings. The utility also offers rebates to help persuade customers to make upgrades, and details are available by clicking on ActOnEnergy.com
“We don’t want people to be uncomfortable, but we want them to realize that if you use more and more natural gas, it is going to make your bill go up,” Shangraw said.
She said customers can save 2 percent or 3 percent on their heating bills for each degree they turn their thermostat down. But, however much gas we use, Ameren Illinois said it has locked in more than enough supplies to meet demand.
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