NJ: natural gas rates could rise

May 30, 2008 6:11:02 PM PDT
It could cost more to heat New Jersey homes with natural gas this winter. Four utilities on Friday asked state regulators to approve increases in natural gas rates that would boost bills by about one-fifth, citing wholesale prices for natural gas that have nearly doubled since January. They are allowed to pass along increased costs for commodities.

"We buy gas throughout the year and lock in lower prices for our customers where possible," said David Daly, vice president of energy acquisition and technology for Public Service Electric & Gas.

"While the industry as a whole has recovered from the devastating hurricanes of three years ago, the market remains extremely volatile due to record high oil prices and other commodity prices, volatility in the financial markets, and the risk of hurricanes and cold winter weather forecasts," Daly said.

He said the company had kept rates stable for two years following a reduction in fall 2006.

Newark-based PSE&G, which serves 1.7 million natural gas customers in northern and central New Jersey, is seeking a 20 percent increase in rates.

If approved by state regulators, PSE&G's request would increase its average monthly bill by $28.60, to $174.06, starting Oct. 1.

New Jersey Natural Gas, which has 482,000 customers in Monmouth, Ocean and parts of Morris counties, sought an 18 percent increase starting Oct. 1.

"The requested increased could have been as much as 13 percent more if NJNG had not already secured prices for nearly 60 percent of the natural gas supply needed for the upcoming heating season," said Mark Sperduto, vice president of regulatory affairs for Wall-based NJNG.

Elizabethtown Gas requested an increase that it said would boost the monthly bill nearly 22 percent, or $32.

"Even though we have not increased our base rate since 2002, the high price of the gas itself is increasing costs for our customers," said Don Carter, a vice president at Union-based Elizabethtown. The utility serves 266,000 customers in Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris, Sussex, Union and Warren counties.

South Jersey Gas proposed a 17.8 percent rate increase. It serves over 335,000 customers in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Salem, and portions of Gloucester, Burlington and Camden counties.