Katrina could turn up heat on local natural gas bills | AspenTimes.com

Katrina could turn up heat on local natural gas bills

Naomi Havlen

Pain at the pump is becoming a national obsession as gasoline prices continue to rise, but heating bills also could rise as a result of Hurricane Katrina.At Kinder Morgan, which provides natural gas in the Roaring Fork Valley, a representative said the hurricane will likely factor into gas cost adjustments filed with the public utilities commission this fall. She declined to speculate on prices.”Disasters like Katrina can be one piece of the puzzle – one piece of what we’ll figure with gas cost adjustments,” said Natalie Shelbourn, senior representative of business relations for Kinder Morgan.Rick Rainey of Kinder Morgan said the company is not in the business of knowing how the disaster affects production of natural gas. Kinder Morgan simply purchases natural gas at the most attractive price possible and passes that “dollar for dollar” to customers.”We don’t actually own the commodity, so we don’t track the dynamics of why prices would go up or down,” he said. In the Rocky Mountains, natural gas comes primarily from the Midwest, he added, rather than the Gulf Coast.In Glenwood Springs, Holy Cross Energy spokesman Bob Gardner said he doesn’t yet know the impact Hurricane Katrina will have on local energy prices, but the company had already forecast a 40 percent increase in the cost of natural gas this winter season. That was before the hurricane was factored in.”Twenty-five to 30 percent of the power we purchase from Excel Energy is generated by natural gas, the remainder by coal,” he said. “The coal price is always fairly fixed. And if I estimate that 25 percent of the natural gas we buy comes through Southern states, where it was impacted by the hurricane, that would increase the price of energy even more.”Gardner said the company recently sent out letters to customers, notifying them of recent power cost adjustments, including the 40 percent increase in the price of gas. But the notice was sent long before the hurricane struck.At Kinder Morgan, representatives noted that they take care to keep costs low by buying up natural gas in the summertime, when prices are historically lower.”We have different programs to hedge costs in order to protect customers from price spikes,” Shelbourn said.But Gardner said consumers can control one thing about their heating bill this winter – how much power they’re using. Holy Cross encourages consumers to be energy-efficient and conserve electricity and heat through a number of incentives, he said.Those include rebates for purchasing energy-efficient appliances with the Energy Star logo, including electric water heaters, refrigerators and programmable thermostats. Other rebates are available locally through the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, or CORE. For more information, visit http://www.aspencore.org.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com