Berkshire Gas seeks 13% rate decrease: Natural gas supply rates expected to drop statewide this winter

Berkshire Gas seeks 13% rate decrease: Natural gas supply rates expected to drop statewide this winter

Last winter’s record cold saw gas heating bills of many of Franklin County’s residents soar, but Berkshire Gas has asked the state for a 13 percent rate decrease for the coming winter over last year’s prices.

If approved by the Department of Public Utilities, the new rate is expected to save a typical Berkshire Gas customer about $22 per month, said spokesman Christopher Farrell. He said the drop is a result of lower market costs for natural gas this year, which he attributed to the forces of supply and demand.

Berkshire Gas serves 5,764 Franklin County customers in the towns of Deerfield, Greenfield, Montague, Sunderland and Whately. Over the course of the fall and spring last year, Berkshire Gas imposed a moratorium on new gas equipment hook-ups and accepting any new customers, citing constraints on the system of pipelines that feed the region. The company said the moratorium will only be lifted when and if the proposed Northeast Energy Direct natural gas pipeline project is built.

Two of the other large utilities that serve the rest of the state on Monday said their own rates this season are also expected to be significantly lower.

Eversource and National Grid, which both supply electricity to most of Franklin County and natural gas to the central and eastern parts of the state, announced Monday that they have filed with the DPU to lower their own gas supply rates. If approved, Eversource’s rate is expected to drop by 31 percent from the 74 cents per therm set last November to 51 cents per therm, which would reduce the average customer’s heating bill by about $30, the company said. National Grid’s rate would drop about 3 or 4 percent, said spokeswoman Mary-Leah Assad, saving the typical customer between $5 and $7 on their bills.

Natural gas is typically pricier during the cold winter months as homeowners and businesses that use it for heating purposes crank up their thermostats. Because electricity generators also purchase natural gas, which is responsible for powering more than half of New England’s electricity generation, but on spot markets, which can leave them without enough supply to run economically.

Spikes in electric rates seen over the past few winters have been attributed to the winter-time demand, which leave less gas to go around, thus raising its price. A variety of proposed pipeline expansion or construction projects, including the controversial Northeast Energy Direct, which is expected to pass through the middle of Franklin County, have been touted as a remedy to the problem.

Others have said such measures are unnecessary, claiming expanded energy-efficiency programs, more renewable energy development, market reforms and increased use of liquefied natural gas are sufficient to meet winter peaking demand.

National Grid also filed with the DPU to lower its electric rates relative to last winter earlier this month, and Eversource is expected to follow suit later this fall.

Each company’s gas supply rate reflects the cost of what it pays for natural gas, which it passes through to ratepayers without making a profit. The companies make money on the other portion of the bill, which covers the company’s delivery charge, Farrell said.

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