SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) – As temperatures get colder this winter, gas rates continue to rise to record numbers.
A proposal in the Illinois statehouse looks to change that.
In 2013, the General Assembly allowed gas companies to add a surcharge to bills in order to fund infrastructure improvements — like replacing old pipes. Now, nearly ten years later, advocates say gas companies have raised prices enough and are now overspending.
Ameren and Nicor, legislators argued, are still adding the surcharge despite having already replaced broken gas lines and systems, using the money as a “blank check.”
“Many are seeing sticker shock as they open their natural gas bill sand their heating bills, many are concerned with the rising cost to heat their homes, “Senator Christina Castro (D – Elgin) said.
When the proposal was announced, gas companies estimated it would cost an extra $13 a year for customers. Now, it costs customers an estimated $13 a month. Initially, Citizen’s Utility Board Director of Governmental Affairs Bryan McDaniels said that low gas prices masked the surcharge. Now that natural gas prices have gone up, rates are reaching record highs for customers.
For those paying those surcharges, the increased cost of heat and gas has lead consumers to make risky decisions. Some go without heat or keep their houses at dangerously low temperatures, some also restrict their use of gas stoves or ovens to one day in order to cut down on their gas use.
“These high bills are stressful,” Parent Leader of POWERPAC IL and Englewood resident Donna Carpenter. “Do you realize what we have to do when the gas bills are this high? We have to be in our homes cold, or decide which days we are going to cook for our families.”
If the bill moves forward, it will not reduce current prices. The previous surcharges were folded into delivery rates which then folded into the baseline cost. It will prevent additional charges, but customers won’t see an immediate dip in costs.
It also won’t stop infrastructure updates and improvements for gas systems. By law, gas companies are required to provide gas safely, which means making sure their systems are up to date and made with safe materials.
“It’s not going to deliver immediate savings, it’s not going to take money off customer’s bills. What it’s going to do is slow or stop future rate hikes,” Abraham Scarr of Illinois PIRG said.
If the bill does not move forward, the gas company’s ability to add charges will expire on Dec. 31, 2023. The proposed legislation would end the surcharge permission early with an effective date of Jan. 1, 2022.
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