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For some, gas bills should ‘hold steady’

While customers in the service area of the Oak Ridge Utility District will most likely see increases of up to 20 percent this month in their residential bills where they have natural gas heating, those in the Powell-Clinch Utility District area most likely won’t see those spikes.

That’s because PCUD has been able to avoid this winter’s unusual increases in wholesale natural gas prices while ORUD has not, according to officials with both districts.

Extreme cold weather and snow in some areas of the Deep South – especially Texas – have brought higher utility costs and bills for millions of people, even outside those areas.

But PCUD has been mostly immune to the higher prices, said Ron Neil, president of the Rocky Top-based gas utility.

“There has been some disruption in the market that caused [natural gas] prices to go up, but it did not affect us,” Neil said Monday. “Most of our gas is locked in on price, and we can pull gas out of storage and not have to buy it at the higher prices if we need to.

“There was an event that occurred over a few days, and we were able to cover it without having to buy gas at the higher prices,” he said.

“But we’re anxious to get through the rest of the winter.”

The Oak Ridge utility, which serves much of the southern half of Anderson County and most of Roane County, does not have access to the gas-storage facility in East Tennessee that PCUD uses to offset higher spot prices, however, said Robert DePriest, director of finance for ORUD.

“Some of these recent price increases are just because it’s been colder this year,” he said.

Still, the rises in ORUD’s gas rates “are not so much as a result of the weather as they are because prices overall have gone up this year, when compared with December and January a year ago, DePriest said.

For instance, ORUD’s price in January 2020 was $2.16 per dekatherm (about 1,000 cubic feet of gas), but that rose to $2.41 this January, DePriest said. In February, the price has been $2.76, compared with $1.88 per dekatherm in February 2020.

“There is some uncertainty in the [wholesale] prices,” he added.

The typical residential customer’s gas bill was just under $100 for ORUD customers in January, compared with about $74 in January 2020, DePriest said.