Guest Essays, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Guest essay: Lower gas bills ahead

by Charlotte Lane

I have good news. Most West Virginians who heat their homes with natural gas will see lower gas bills this winter. The Public Service Commission has ruled on how much the various natural gas utilities are allowed to charge for the fuel they purchase for this heating season, and the cost is down significantly.

Every year, natural gas utilities must file what are known as purchased gas adjustment cases. They tell the PSC how much they expect to pay in the coming year for the fuel they purchase. In each case, our utilities analysts do research to determine whether the companies’ requests are reasonable, and the commission reviews those findings before making a ruling.

I should point out that the price utilities pay to their suppliers is not regulated by the Public Service Commission nor by the federal government. Rather, it is determined by the market.

The purchased gas component normally makes up less than half of the total amount of a residential gas bill. In 2022, the market was particularly volatile, which resulted in a significant increase in the purchased gas component of residential bills.

This year, the market has begun to settle and the prices requested by the utilities have decreased. The amount approved for Mountaineer Gas is down by almost 20%, and Hope Gas saw a decrease of nearly 40% in the amount the commission granted. Those two companies serve almost 89% of gas customers in the state. Of the 12 gas utilities in the state, only two requested increases. Across all natural gas utilities, the overall average amount the commission granted decreased by more than 19% from last year’s rates.

Keep in mind, though, that this decrease only affects the portion of your bill that covers the cost of fuel. I don’t want to create any false expectations. There are many components to your gas bill, and this cut doesn’t affect the other parts of the bill. For example, Hope customers can’t expect their entire bill to be 40% lower. The fuel cost will drop, but the other components will remain the same.

It is gratifying to see the wholesale natural gas prices come down this year, and I hope the trend will continue. This will make a difference for many West Virginia families, and we want to see everyone stay warm and cozy this winter.

Charlotte Lane was appointed to the Public Service Commission and as Chairman in 2019. She previously served on the commission from 1985-89 and 1997-2003, serving as chairman from 1997-2001.