High natural gas rates hit Evanston residents

Emily Ramshaw

High natural gas prices are beginning to hit Northwestern students living off-campus where it hurts — their wallets.

A nationwide natural gas shortage has forced Nicor Gas, Inc., the area’s main server, to raise prices dramatically. This price hike, coupled with Evanston residents’ increased gas use during winter months, is becoming more painful with every month’s gas bill.

Education senior Jennifer Smith said her December gas bill for her apartment was $300, even though there was only one person living there for three weeks. Her November bill was $93 for the entire month, with three residents.

“I figured since it was December, the bill would go up, but I was guessing it would be no more than $150,” Smith said. “Instead, it was twice as much as I’d expected.”

City Manager Roger Crum said Evanston has thus far made no plans to accommodate Evanston residents who are unable to work increased heating costs into their winter budgets.

“We have no control over gas companies, and we think there will be some problems,” Crum said. “We expect there to be more requests for emergency assistance, which is a limited fund.”

Nicor representative Craig White said this January’s natural gas cost is 95 cents per therm, up from 35.5 cents per therm in January 2000. October 2000 costs were 63 cents per therm, and the price has risen between 5 and 25 cents each month since then.

Although these numbers sound like pocket change, the Nicor Web site reported that the average Illinois residential customer would have had a December 1999 bill of around $50, compared with a December 2000 average bill of more than $140. However, White said using these averages is risky, because every customer has a different heating situation.

Weinberg senior Brian Gould said gas prices for his apartment have also increased, but not as dramatically as Smith’s. Gould said his landlord told him to expect to pay 50 percent more this winter, but that has not yet been the case.

And in a random polling of 30 off-campus students, 25 said they have not noticed the price hike because their landlords include their gas bills with their rents.

White said the present price hike is out of Nicor’s control and is because of nationwide natural gas supply-and-demand problems.

“Demand has been up over the past few years because of an increase in its use in industry, and because of colder winters,” White said. “Supply did not increase with the demand, so with that kind of instability, you get prices that go up.”

Generally, off-campus students said they can easily justify sacrificing the dough for the sake of heat.

“We’d rather pay a few extra dollars to stay warm,” Gould said.