Low Natural Gas Prices Helping to Keep Customers Connected
Utility disconnects fell by more than eight percent while customers saved billions on energy bills.
Washington, D.C. – In cities and towns across the country, Americans are saving money and enjoying a better quality of life thanks to the nation’s abundant supply of clean, domestic natural gas delivered by local natural gas utilities. This year, according to a survey of American Gas Association member companies, the number of customers disconnected from their utility service fell by more than eight percent, indicating that the low price of natural gas is allowing more people to access the energy they need. Additionally, the total amount owed by natural gas customers fell by nearly 15 percent.
“Natural gas plays a key role in rebuilding our nation’s economy by saving money for homes and businesses and keeping our most vulnerable citizens from having to go without essential energy,” said AGA President and CEO Dave McCurdy. “The low price of natural gas also creates jobs, is boosting the manufacturing and chemical industries and is a driver for infrastructure expansion while offering tremendous value to the 177 million Americans who use it every day.”
Prices for natural gas this winter were nearly two percent lower compared to the year before, according to the Energy Information Administration, but the improvement in disconnect rates can also be attributed to the combination of an improving economy and assistance from federal, state and utility energy efficiency programs that all helped more households stay current on their bills.
Low domestic prices of natural gas have led to savings of almost $35 billion for residential natural gas customers over the past three years. Households that use natural gas appliances for heating, water heating, cooking and clothes drying spend an average of $654 less per year than homes using electricity for those applications. These savings are achieved not just through the comparatively low price point of natural gas, but also due to the efficiency of the delivery network operated by natural gas utilities. The direct use of natural gas maintains about 92 percent of its usable energy from production to the customer.
Natural gas utilities are committed to helping customers achieve even greater energy savings by investing heavily in energy efficiency programs. In 2011, natural gas utilities created total savings of more than $300 million for customers – about $107 per household – and offset 6.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.
Still, the need for fuel assistance in this country remains great, and many customers struggle to make ends meet. The latest U.S. Census data shows that the poverty rate in 2012 was 15 percent – meaning about 46.5 million Americans lived in poverty. While overall disconnects are down, the number of customers who are at least 30 days late in paying their utility bills stayed stable compared to last year and accounts for more than 18 percent of customers. The Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is an essential federal program that can help ensure no Americans go without heat in winter or air conditioning in summer. To date, the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved $3.61 billion for LIHEAP in FY 2014. The House Appropriations Committee, however, has yet to set FY 2014 LIHEAP funding levels. While recognizing that Congress faces difficult decisions given the current fiscal climate, AGA continues to call for action ensuring responsible funding levels for LIHEAP. Greater certainty for overall LIHEAP funding and distribution timing is crucial to ensuring that states can plan budgets and receive funds necessary to provide assistance to Americans in need.