Virginians feeling the heat of high utility bills this winter
On Christmas Eve 2022, temperatures in central Virginia hit a low of 8 degrees, 17 degrees below the record in 2021, according to the National Weather Service.
That and several other arctic blasts this winter came amid global conflicts like war in Ukraine that have strained natural gas supply in the U.S. At the same time, there has been an increase in the use of natural gas to generate energy for the electric grid as more and more coal-fired plants come offline.
As a result, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted in October that natural gas bills in the South could increase during the October to March winter season by $761, or 24%, compared to the year before. Some 28% of homes in the South rely on natural gas for heat.
For homes relying on electricity for heat, bills could increase by $1,249, or 12%. About 65% of homes in the South rely on electricity for heat.
Virginia has eight investor-owned natural gas providers, two large electric utilities and 13 electric cooperatives that are regulated by the State Corporation Commission. There are also three municipal governments — Richmond, Danville and Charlottesville — that provide natural gas and are regulated by their city councils.
In filings with the State Corporation Commission and interviews with the Mercury, all gas and electric providers have acknowledged that global price pressures on natural gas are affecting customers’ bills.
Southwest Virginia Gas Company, “like any other entity that purchases natural gas, has seen increases to the costs it pays for natural gas,” wrote president and CEO James McClain II in one representative request to the SCC for a rate increase.
All of Virginia’s electric and gas providers have assistance programs for customers to help alleviate the burden of rising bills. Millions of dollars are also available through state assistance and energy efficiency programs.
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