CourierPostOnline

Natural Gas To Skyrocket

CourierPostOnline — Thursday, December 15, 2005

By BILL DUHART
Courier-Post
Staff

Double-digit gas rate hikes approved by the state Board of Public Utilities on Wednesday could have a disproportionately harsh effect on South Jersey residents, a local consumer advocate said.

Ev Liebman, program director for New Jersey Citizen Action, a consumer watchdog group, said South Jersey has larger pockets of low- and fixed-income residents than other parts of the state, and the cost of heating a home will jump by 25 percent or more this winter.

"A city like Camden, one of the poorest cities in the country, residents at the very low end of the income scale are going to be hurt the worst," Liebman said from her Camden office. "It's going to be a shock for people. This is going to create an almost impossible situation for many folks who are going to have to make real tough choices between food, medicine and heat."

The increases took effect Wednesday.

The rate hikes allow utility companies around the state to pass on spikes in the cost of providing energy to consumers. BPU President Jeanne M. Fox said the increases were justified because the four utilities that supply natural gas to consumers in the state are facing higher costs for purchasing the commodity. Increases are blamed on hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"The utilities are not making any money off this. They are not making a dime. They are not making a penny," Fox said after the board's meeting in Newark.

But consumers are still going to feel the pinch.

PSE&G, the state's largest energy supplier with 1.7 million customers, nearly twice as many as the other three providers combined, had a 15.4 percent rate hike granted Wednesday. That means the typical PSE&G consumer will now pay nearly $20 more per month, or $148.96, for gas this winter. That's on top of a 10 percent hike the utility received in September.

The majority of South Jersey has gas supplied by PSE&G and South Jersey Gas, which was granted a 24.3 percent increase Wednesday, according to Liebman. The typical South Jersey Gas consumer will now pay $172.29 monthly, up from $138.61.

Spiraling energy costs have consumers like Daniele Quintavalle, an expectant mother with a husband, four cats and an iguana, counting her pennies this winter.

"I'm not happy with the increases, said Quintavalle, 28, a human resource worker. "It's going to make it hard on everyone. I don't think it's needed."

Quintavalle recently moved from a two-bedroom condo in Blackwood to a four-bedroom house in the Williamstown section of Monroe. She said the extra heating cost will definitely "create a financial hardship."

WHERE TO CALL

A family of four would qualify for energy assistance if their annual income were less than $33,863; an individual making $16,747.50 or less would qualify.

Programs that provide assistance with heating bills for low-income customers:

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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