Natural gas price spikes are translating into unusually high cold-weather heating bills for many Americans.
Montana customers of NorthWestern Energy, however, are an exception and will probably see stable natural gas prices this winter.
Nationally, natural gas prices have risen 45 percent over the past year. Storage capacity, meanwhile, is low. That means natural gas customers in some parts of the country are paying some of the highest prices seen in years.
For NorthWestern Energy’s customers in Montana, however, it’s a different story.
‘They should be insulated to a pretty nice degree from big spikes in the price of natural gas. That’s the whole purpose of the things we’ve undertaken," says NorthWestern Energy Spokesman Butch Larcombe.
Larcombe says the typical November residential natural gas bill for a Montana customer is expected to be about $71.44. That’s almost 10 percent less than this time last year. Ten years ago, the typical November bill was over $117.
“In the summer we purchased about 9 billion cubic feet of natural gas and stored it in three places: up near Cut Bank and near Havre and in an area called Dry Creek which is southeast of Billings. The average cost of that gas we bought was about 88 cents per dekatherm. I just checked a little bit ago and the market price for [natural] gas was abut $4.30 per dekatherm.”
NorthWestern also owns and operates a natural gas pipeline that taps into the Canadian market where gas prices are currently well-below those found in many parts of the U.S.
Larcombe points out that colder temperatures always lead to higher winter bills for all NorthWestern customers. Weatherization and free energy audits can however, help customers better manage those costs.
About 190,000 homes and businesses in 117 Montana communities are served by NorthWestern natural gas.