GRU warns of gas bill increases


Published: Thursday, September 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 1, 2005 at 12:00 a.m.
Florida utility officials continued to urge energy conservation Wednesday to account for massively decreased natural gas production from the Gulf of Mexico due to Hurricane Katrina.
But they expressed cautious optimism that constrained fuel supplies would not lead to blackouts in the state.
However, the limited fuel production combined with the already soaring price of natural gas led Gainesville Regional Utilities officials to announce "dramatic" increases in the amount customers who use natural gas will pay. Increases to the purchased gas adjustment, which covers the cost GRU pays for the fuel, could raise the typical customer's September bill by about 35 percent. The increase will raise the typical gas bill by about $9 for September, said Ed Regan, the municipal utility's assistant general manager for strategic planning.
About one-third of the electricity in the Florida is generated using natural gas, and conservation measures are needed to prevent demand from overwhelming capacity, according to an alert issued by the Florida Reliability Coordinating Council, an electrical industry group put together to prevent service disruptions in the state. Particularly, utility officials have recommended decreasing usage during the peak hours of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
"It's more out of an abundance of caution than anything," said Todd Brown, a spokesman for Florida's Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities.
"It's until all the damage is assessed and we know what works and what doesn't work," Brown said, referring to natural gas production facilities in the Gulf.
Customer demand is still less than what the utilities can produce, so blackouts that had been feared earlier in the week will likely not occur, he said.
Natural gas production in the Gulf of Mexico was 83 percent below normal Wednesday, according to a report from the U.S. Department of the Interior. The amount of natural gas production from Gulf platforms lost due to the hurricane is equal to about 1 percent of their total yearly production.
Last month, the rising price of natural gas and the failure of the municipal utility's most efficient generator led to an increased fuel adjustment of about $6 for the typical customer.
With precautionary conservation measures, GRU should be able to meet electrical demand, even though the reduced production means it is only receiving 75 percent of the gas it normally would, said Chip Allen, the utility's assistant general manager for energy supply.
Officials with Progress Energy and Clay Electric Cooperative, which serve parts of Alachua County beyond GRU's coverage area, also said that while there is concern about the long-term effects of the shortage, energy generation was not in danger.
"We just need to let people know in general that we need to do our part in conserving right now," said Howard Mott, Clay Electric's district manager for Gainesville and Lake City.
Jeff Adelson can be reached at 352-374-5095 or adelsoj@gvillesun.com

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