Responding to the continuing abundant supply of natural gas, Questar Gas Co. is asking state utility regulators to allow it to reduce the amount it charges its customers for the fuel by 1.68 percent, or $13.3 million a year.
If approved by the Utah Public Service Commission, the rate cut would lower the typical homeowner’s annual bill by $11.44, about $1 a month.
Questar is hoping regulators will quickly approve the reduction request so it can appear on customer bills beginning Sept. 1.
"The price we pay to buy gas for our customers is about as low as it’s been in a decade," Craig Wagstaff, Questar’s chief operating officer, said in announcing the utility’s request. "Abundant supplies of natural gas nationwide have resulted in an oversupply."
Questar typically asks Utah regulators twice a year for permission to adjust the amount it charges its customers.
Yet since January 2011, the company’s requests — which are known as "pass-through" rate adjustments — have become a bit more frequent because of falling price of the fuel brought about by a sharp increase in supply.
That increase has resulted from the growing use of "fracking," a drilling method that makes it possible to extract natural gas from rock beds that were once considered unproductive.
Questar supplies natural gas to its customers at cost and doesn’t make any money by marking up the price of the fuel. Instead, the utility earns its money by charging its customers to deliver the natural gas they need over the company’s network of pumping stations and pipelines.
However, because the price of the fuel does fluctuate, Questar must periodically adjust the amount it collects from its customers to ensure it has enough funds on hand to buy the natural gas it needs in the future. When the cost of the fuel is going down on the open market, Questar can collect a little less from its customers, but when it is going up the company will ask regulators to increase the amount it collects.
In his announcement, Wagstaff also reminded Questar customers that funds may be available to help those in need with their monthly heating bills this coming winter.
Utah’s Home Energy Assistance Target program (HEAT) and Questar’s Gas’s Residential Energy Assistance Through Community Help program (REACH) are poised to help income-eligible customers. For information about those and other assistance programs, call 211.
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