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Natural gas ratepayers could see an increase of $74 a month by 2035

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Natural gas ratepayers could see an increase of $74 a month by 2035



A price hike could be coming for certain natural gas customers.
Daily Herald file

Customers of Illinois’ four largest gas utilities including Nicor Gas and Ameren Illinois are in for a hike of at least $74 a month by 2035, according to a study released Monday by the electrification advocacy group Building Decarbonization Coalition.

Consumer advocacy groups Illinois PIRG and Citizens Utility Board are urging state regulators to rein in the utilities’ annual spending on infrastructure that they say is destined to become dormant and expensive amid the statewide push to reach 100% clean energy by 2050.

“Every dollar gas utilities spend on unnecessary fossil fuel infrastructure today creates a multi-decade liability for Illinois utility customers and the public,” Abe Scarr, Illinois PIRG’s education fund director, said in a news release. “This critical new analysis from the Building Decarbonization Coalition demonstrates just how harmful current gas utility spending levels are and how imperative it is that the Illinois Commerce Commission continue to reform utility practices as it did in its November rate-case decisions.”

Illinois regulators curtailed record rate hikes proposed for customers of Peoples Gas, Nicor Gas, Ameren Illinois and North Shore Gas in November, resulting in the rate increases lowering by about $240 million in total.

Nicor Gas spokeswoman Jennifer Golz said in an email that the company believes “the most practical, reliable and affordable way to achieve a cleaner energy future is through the continued use of natural gas and the infrastructure that supports it.”

Golz said Nicor’s assets position Illinois to leverage natural gas as part of a faster, less expensive way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions rather than policy-driven mandatory electrification.

“The transition must ensure reliability and affordability, support a growing economy and make real progress on emissions reductions. This is why natural gas is a critical part of the mix,” she added.

With Nicor, Ameren, North Shore and Peoples Gas spending more than $1 billion each year on gas system infrastructure, Building Decarbonization Coalition’s report also highlights the cost concerns behind gas infrastructure build-outs.

The study projected unrecovered gas system assets are projected to reach $80 billion by 2050 — “all of which are at risk of becoming stranded as customers flee the increasingly expensive gas system for cost-effective and climate- and health-friendly electric alternatives to gas,” according to the coalition.

The report further outlines concerns that as more customers leave the gas system for electric, increasing costs will be spread across fewer ratepayers — many of whom are likely to be lower-income households or renters.

“The crippling costs of heating bills has already caused a financial emergency for many Illinois families, and this new study shows that current conditions represent only a fraction of the fiasco to come if spending by gas utilities is not held in check,” CUB Executive Director Sarah Moskowitz said in the release.

• Jenny Whidden, [email protected], is a climate change and environment writer working with the Daily Herald through a partnership with Report For America supported by The Nature Conservancy. To help support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see dailyherald.com/rfa.