Tuesday, September 19, 2000

Heat costs prompt summit

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — As natural gas prices continue to rise, consumers around the country are facing a long winter of high heating bills.

        Gov. Bob Taft on Wednesday is to hold a summit with Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles on how to prepare for the higher prices expected this winter. The summit will also examine the possibility of a long-term natural gas shortage as demand for the fuel continues to rise.

        Ohio is a heavy consumer of natural gas, while Alaska is a large producer.

        “It's trying to figure out what we can do to take advantage of a great natural resource and utilize it at an affordable price,” Mr. Knowles said.

        The one-day summit brings together several of the country's largest producers, suppliers and regulators of natural gas.

        The event in downtown Columbus is meant to help governors understand the natural gas marketplace and help them develop plans for their own states.

        States expected to send representatives include Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Oklahoma, Texas, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Wisconsin and Michigan.

        “We need to figure out how to conserve, what we can do to protect those people who are least able to pay the higher prices, the low-income families particularly who may suffer a loss of heating because of the high prices,” Mr. Taft said.

        Normally, the wholesale price this time of year is about $2 per thousand cubic feet. That price has since doubled, said Jerry Jordan of the Columbus-based Independent Petroleum Association of America.

        The Department of Energy has predicted that, on average, consumers should see about a 25 percent increase in their bills this winter.

        As the demand for electricity increases, utilities are looking for the cleanest and most efficient way to produce more energy. Increasingly in Ohio and around the country they are turning to natural gas — contributing to the current price increase and the possibility of a long-term shortage.

        In Ohio, for example, state regulators have approved seven power-plant proposals, with an investment of $880 million, to generate 2,795 megawatts of electricity using natural gas.


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