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Indiana Gas Prices Down, But LIHEAP Applicants Up

April 2 – Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) customers will pay 42.5 percent less for natural gas in April because of large decreases in the wholesale cost of natural gas, the utility reported Wednesday.

This is a trend being mirrored across the country. From July to December alone, the well-head price of natural gas dropped almost 45 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. It has dropped further since.

The 39.11 cents per therm price for April will be the lowest NIPSCO customers have paid since January 2002, NIPSCO spokesman Nick Meyer said.

A typical NIPSCO customer using 100 therms of natural gas will see their monthly bill drop by $45.51, according to NIPSCO calculations. Individual bill amounts will depend on actual usage.

The utility had bought much of its gas for storage last summer when prices were at an all-time high, so customers had not yet seen the full impact of falling wholesale prices, Meyer said.

Still, NIPSCO customers enjoyed some of the benefit, with NIPSCO's gas price going down in nine months out of the last 11.

NIPSCO adjusts natural gas prices monthly subject to approval by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. The utility is not allowed to "mark up" or make a profit on the commodity. NIPSCO makes its money on delivery of natural gas.

NIPSCO's storage is depleted, so it is buying natural gas on the wholesale market at current prices, accounting for the April plunge in price, Meyer said.

Still, the drop in NIPSCO's gas price is coming too late for many customers, who have been socked with utility bills of $600 or more per month this winter, said Jane Hopkins, director of community services at Northwest Indiana Community Action Corp.

The number of households qualifying for LIHEAP grants at her agency was up 30 percent this winter compared to last, Hopkins said. So far, 25,500 people have qualified for the grants. State officials estimated in January that the program would serve over 182,000 households, a 14 percent increase over 2008.

Colder than normal winter temperatures had most customers using more natural gas and facing higher bills. The recession also had many customers struggling to pay their bills, Hopkins said.

"It is really job loss that has turned a lot of people into a level of need they have never encountered before," Hopkins said.

Source: NWI.com, Indiana newspapers