CHICAGO - Experts say natural gas consumers in Chicago and the suburbs will likely be forced to pay hundreds of dollars more in the upcoming heating season, which typically begins next month.
Even before huge, new increases hit, tens of thousands of natural gas consumers in Chicago say they are unable to pay their bills, as many say they lost jobs or earning power during the pandemic.
The cost of natural gas is rising across the country and around the world. But that's just part of the reason consumers in Chicago face a 35% to 50% increase in their bills.
"Peoples Gas in the city of Chicago and Nicor Gas in suburban Chicagoland, have been on spending sprees and they're really out of control spending on natural gas infrastructure. Increasingly it's making it unaffordable, structurally, for people to be able to pay their bills," said David Kolata of the Citizen Utility Board.
Consumer advocates note that about one-third of consumers in the city of Chicago are currently not paying their gas utility bills. Since state law changed in 2013, natural gas utilities have been allowed to spend huge amounts of money on new pipelines and other projects, and then adding the growing cost to monthly bills.
Crain’s Chicago Business reports the typical Peoples Gas consumer is now paying an extra $13 a month because of that. Lower natural prices in recent years helped conceal that, but that is about to end with some very ugly sticker shock for those who heat with gas.
"Crain’s did some analysis and estimated somewhere between 30% or so, 35% for Peoples Gas customers and up to 50% for Nicor Gas customers," said Abe Scarr, Director of Illinois PIRG.
What's that going to mean for a typical consumer? Crain’s estimates the cost of gas this heating season will jump to $938 for Chicagoans and to $693 for suburban residents.
"Certainly bad news for — if you're going to heat your home this winter," Scarr said.