Craig residents won't benefit from natural-gas price cuts

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Atmos Energy customers won't see the 30 percent to 35 percent decrease in their natural-gas prices that Xcel customers will this month.

Instead, Atmos Energy customers will see stability in bills that likely won't reflect extreme fluctuations, a company official said.

In November, Xcel Energy changed the way it passed the commodity price onto customers, making adjustments monthly instead of as needed. Xcel serves many residents in Colorado, but Atmos supplies natural gas to Craig.

February's price adjustment is based on the assumption that customers will use significantly less natural gas. According to Xcel, typical residential customers are expected to decrease consumption by 28 percent this month.

In the natural gas market, price fluctuations are based almost solely on demand.

The amount of natural gas in storage remains well above average for this time of year. According to Mark Stutz, spokesman for Xcel Energy, at the end of 2004 about 2.7 trillion cubic feet remained in storage, 5 percent more than last year.

"The February filing is part of the company's monthly cost adjustment designed to help customers better manage their energy use and bills," Stutz said.

Atmos Energy spokeswoman Karen Wilkes said Atmos has had as many as five cost adjustments in a year but is not ready to start monthly cost adjustments.

"We're kind of waiting to see what the advantages are for customers," she said. "But we're finding they like the stability."

Atmos purchases nearly 50 percent of its natural gas during the summer, when prices are low.

Natural-gas service companies such as Atmos and Xcel don't profit from the sale of natural gas -- they pass prices directly to the customers.

Wilkes said it was too early to tell where natural gas prices will go or when customers will see a decrease.

"Winter has such a profound impact on natural-gas prices," she said. "We try to pick a price that's very level and best reflects the lows of summer and the highs of winter. Right now, we're right on the money."

Atmos Energy increased natural- gas prices twice last year, the last increase -- 83 cents per ccf -- occurred just as cold weather set in.

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