The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is warning natural gas customers to expect higher prices this heating season and suggests South Dakotans take steps now to keep bills manageable this winter.
“South Dakota natural gas utilities are estimating natural gas prices for this upcoming winter will near $6 per Metric Million British Thermal Unit (MMBtu), compared to prices usually in the $2 to $3 per MMBtu range last year,” said PUC Vice Chairperson Kristie Fiegen, noting that this winter’s bills will be the highest in more than 10 years.
Also, rising natural gas prices could raise other costs, including electricity, because natural gas supplies more than 40% of the power to the U.S. power grid.
Natural gas prices have already started going up due to market forces, but as temperatures drop, South Dakotans will also likely see their bills rise, according to a press release from the PUC this week.
Gas prices are not regulated, but fluctuate according to supply and demand.
“The natural gas industry is experiencing shortages in supply while also seeing an increase in overall natural gas demand,” said PUC Chairman Chris Nelson. “South Dakota’s regulated natural gas utilities, including MidAmerican Energy Co., Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. and NorthWestern Energy, are currently projecting bill increases for residential customers of at least 50% to 100% compared to the bills seen between November and February of the 2020-2021 heating season.”
The current nationwide natural gas shortage is the result of several factors, including increased exports of liquefied natural gas, increased natural gas usage for electric generation and low production due to hurricane damage.
Also, freezing temperatures throughout the U.S. last February resulted in unprecedented demand for natural gas and extreme wholesale natural gas prices. In its press release, the PUC said it worked with utilities to mitigate the impact for customers, but a portion of the forecasted increase involves the recovery of significant costs during that cold snap.
These projected increases are estimates, but there are some things people can do now, including:
• lowering the temperature on the thermostat;
• installing a programmable thermostat;
• changing furnace filters regularly to aid air flow;
• conserving hot water;
• and maintaining and upgrading appliances for greater energy efficiency.
Yankton area organizations offering emergency utility assistance include:
• The Contact Center — (605) 260-4400, Option 2,
• Rural Office of Community Service (ROCS) —605-665-4559,
• Pathways Shelter for the Homeless — 605-665-8994,
• The South Dakota Department of Social Services Division of Economic Assistance LIEAP Program for help in heating crisis situations, including disconnect from primary heating source, refusal to deliver or cash on delivery, eviction (if heat is included in rent) or furnace problems. The emergency number for the Vermillion office is 605-589-4319.