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West Virginians hope for continued lower utility bills

By Megan Workman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Many West Virginians could pay less for the total cost of their utility bills this year if utility rates continue on a trend they have followed for a few years.

Residential customers' combined utility rates -- gas, water, electricity and phone services -- decreased by 5.3 percent statewide last year, according to a report released by the state Public Service Commission's Consumer Advocate Division.

The average West Virginian is now paying about $15 less per month for utility services. In January 2012, people paid $292.81 for electricity, gas, water and telephone services. In January of this year, those customers paid $277.22 for the same utility services, according to the study.

That followed a 2 percent increase in 2011. But for the two years prior to 2011, West Virginians saw decreases in their utility bills. Utility rates dropped more than 2 percent in 2010 and more than 11 percent in 2009.

Utility rates jumped, however, more than 15 percent in 2008.

So, if the state's trend in utility bills -- increase, decrease, decrease, increase -- continues, West Virginians can look forward to even cheaper utility bills this year.

Monthly residential utility rates have decreased more than 4 percent between 2008 and 2013, according to the report.

In the past, electricity rates are the main reason residential customers' total utility bills went up, according to the report. Last year -- for the first time in five years -- electricity rates declined or remained stable.

Since 2008, electricity bills alone have increased more than 38 percent, according to the report.

Natural gas bills, on the other hand, have decreased nearly 30 percent. Continuous declining natural gas rates are the primary factor for reduced utility bills.

The initial decline in natural gas rates was caused by the impact of the global economic recession on wellhead gas prices, the report stated.

"Wellhead natural gas prices have remained at relatively low levels due to slow economic growth and the significant increase in production from drilling in shale formations, most notably the Marcellus Shale," the report stated.

"Despite the current rosy outlook for natural gas prices, there is no guarantee that prices will remain at this level in the future," according to the report.

The Consumer Advocate Division pointed to the 1990s, when the U.S. experienced relatively low natural gas prices "only to see prices soar from 2000 to 2008," they wrote.

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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