Natural gas rates lowest in years

In July 2008, the total annual bill for the typical customer using a standard fixed rate plan was about $1,500, in most cases.

This month, it's under $1,000.

A year ago, the monthly bill for the typical customer under a variable rate plan was about $50.

This month, it's about $40 or less.

Georgia PSC spokesman Bill Edge said basic economics are at play. More natural gas is on the market, while consumption of natural gas is down because the recession has curtailed industrial use.

The net result: Consumers are in an enviable position, although they still face the usual question in a deregulated market: Lock in at the current rate for a year, hoping it's near or at bottom? Or, go with a rate that varies each month, anticipating it might go even lower?

Energy industry analysts have said prices may be down for a while, given the faltering economy's slow recovery and the need for natural gas suppliers to find markets.

Dan Hart, president and chief executive officer of Coweta-Fayette EMC Natural Gas, said, "It wouldn't be a bad time" to lock in a gas rate, although he said it's possible natural gas prices could go still lower. But events such as hurricanes or political instability near pipelines could send wholesale prices back up.

As usual, rates posted by marketers with the PSC vary considerably.

The lowest rates were posted by Coweta-Fayette EMC, for both fixed annual and variable monthly periods.

Its annual bill was posted at $919.46. The highest was Infinite Energy's $999.57. Falling between the two were the standard plans offered by other marketers including Fireside Natural Gas, Gas South, GasKey, Georgia Natural Gas, MXenergy, SCANA, Stream Energy and Walton EMC Natural Gas.

Coweta-Fayette EMC's variable monthly rate was posted with the PSC at $35.68. GasKey and MXenergy had the highest rate, both at $40.15.

Marketers buy natural gas from a supplier, then sell it to customers who can purchase their service from any of them.

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