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Gas prices going up in Chambersburg

September 14, 2000

Gas prices going up in Chambersburg



By DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Following the same trend as gasoline and home heating oil, the price of natural gas to Chambersburg's 5,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers will be sharply higher this winter, according to Borough Gas Superintendent James Crowley.

In July 1999 a decatherm of natural gas was $2.22, but has risen to about $4 now and could hit $5 next month, Crowley told the Borough Council Wednesday. A decatherm is the equivalent of 1 million BTUs, or about 1,000 cubic feet.

Borough residential customers buy gas at units of 100 cubic feet. The cost of a unit has risen from 55 cents last winter to 86 cents now, Crowley said.

The average residential customer who used 200 units in January paid $110. At the higher price, their gas bill would be about $170, Crowley said.

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"There's no foreseeable reversal of these gas prices," Crowley said. While natural gas is produced domestically, primarily from fields in Louisiana and Texas, market prices have more than doubled from a year ago.

That's a function of supply and demand. Crowley said natural gas is being used increasingly for the production of electricity because it is clean. The result has been that the once normal drop-off of its use in the summer has not occurred.

Because demand remained high "natural gas inventories are near a six-year low," he said. Because prices for natural gas were low prior to this year, there was little incentive for companies to drill for more sources, while other potential fields have been declared off-limits by the federal government because of environmental concerns.

"There probably going to be some hardships here" for low-income residents, Council President Bernard Washabaugh said. He suggested including information about heating assistance programs in borough utility bills.

Borough Manager Eric Oyer noted many assistance programs provide relief retroactively, requiring eligible users to provide utility bills demonstrating that they have experienced a financial hardship.

Crowley said the past several winters have been mild and a normal or colder than normal winter could mean an even greater impact on the cost to the borough and its customers. Chambersburg is rare among Pennsylvania municipalities in that it owns its gas and electrical systems, buying natural gas and electricity and selling it to customers.

There are about 3,800 residential gas customers in the borough. Crowley said the extent to which they use gas varies from stoves and water heaters to homes that are fully heated by gas.

Among measures residents can take to lessen the impact of higher prices, Crowley suggested weatherizing homes with additional insulation and weather stripping. Residents can also consider replacing inefficient furnaces and appliances and making larger monthly payments now that can be credited toward the higher winter heating bills.

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