Hot News for Cold Weather: Lower Heating Bills for Natural Gas Customers

Continued low prices for natural gas mean fall and winter bills expected to dip slightly or remain flat

There’s more good news for natural gas customers. It will cost a bit less or the same for New Jersey residents to heat their homes this fall and winter, a trend driven by continued low natural gas prices.

In filings with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, three of the four gas companies in the state said they would lower prices for residential customers from about 3.6 percent to as much as 4.5 percent. The state’s biggest gas utility, Public Service Electric & Gas, said its rates would remain the same.

Customers have seen natural gas prices steadily drop for the past few years, largely due to the discovery of huge new supplies of the fuel in neighboring Pennsylvania and other nearby states. In the case of PSE&G, it has resulted in a reduction in residential bills of 39 percent, according to Jorge Cardenas, vice president of asset management. The utility has 1.8 million customers.

“Even though gas supply costs have begun to fluctuate in recent months, we’re pleased that we have been able to hold the rate steady for the upcoming year,’’ Cardenas said.

The rates, which still need to be reviewed and approved by the BPU, typically take effect October 1. Gas utilities make no profit on the sale of natural gas, reaping their income on the cost of delivering to homes and businesses. The cost for natural gas supplies account for about half a customer’s bill.

For Elizabethtown Gas, which serves 276,000 customers, residential ratepayers will see bills drop by 3.6 percent, or $4.22 a month. New Jersey Natural Gas customers’ bills will decline 4.3 percent for a savings of $5.13 a month. At South Jersey Gas, rates will fall by 4.5 percent, or approximately $5.94 each month.

“In all, customer bills today are as low as they’ve been in a decade, so in terms of value, we’re unaware of any other energy product that’s as comparatively priced over that duration,’’ said Jeffrey DuBois, president of South Jersey Gas, which serves 357,000 customers in southern portions of the state.

The lower gas prices have led the BPU to approve a range of accelerated infrastructure projects by the utilities. For instance, New Jersey Natural Gas has invested $130 million since 2009 replacing gas mains and reinforcing and enhancing the reliability of its distribution system, which serves nearly a half-million customers.

“The timing is good because of the lower gas prices,’’ said BPU President Bob Hanna. “It is wise to spend a relatively small portion of the gas price savings on the utility infrastructure.’’

A recent report by a blue-ribbon panel of former state executives and others said New Jersey needed to spend $8.7 billion on its power distribution system to make it more able to withstand extreme weather.

“Before Sandy, we had budget problems and a deteriorating infrastructure,’’ said the report, entitled “Facing Our Future.’’ After Sandy, “inconceivable new challenges compounded these existing problems.’’

The lower natural gas prices also benefit electric customers, because the fuel is so widely used in New Jersey to produce electricity. That helps drive down the prices that power suppliers get for generating the juice to keep the lights on.