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Natural gas rates increase as of Jan. 1, 2010

Many Hubbard County residents will see a small refund on their natural gas bills but overall will see a rate increase from Minnesota Energy Resources Corporation.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved new final natural gas rates effective Jan. 1, 2010 for customers of Minnesota Energy Resources Corporation.

The new rates will average from $0.35 to $0.68 per month less than interim rates granted earlier in October 2008 that residential customers are currently paying, depending on the customer's location. But the new final rates reflect an increase of about $3.56 to $5.23 monthly overall rates in effect prior to October 2008.

The final rates differ because MERC has four different rate zones throughout Minnesota, and because average customer use varies throughout the state.

The increase is due to rising costs for safety and reliability infrastructure improvements made by Minnesota Energy Resources, the company says.

Still, the company expects customers to pay nearly 20 percent less in heating costs this year due to lower costs for the natural gas commodity.

"We're expecting a typical residential customer using 71 therms of natural gas monthly will see a savings of more than $100 from last year's heating costs, based on normal temperatures this year," said Ann Carlon, Senior External Affairs Manager for Minnesota Energy.

Refunds for individual customers will vary by their actual usage during the interim period, but typical customers will receive refunds between $10 and $25, according to MERC.

The refund is being made because the final approved rate increase was lower than the interim rate increase that went into effect in October 2008. The refund reflects the amounts over-billed for each customer, plus interest, and will be shown as a credit on customers' March 2010 bills.

"Several factors are influencing the current lower prices of natural gas," Carlon said. "There is good supply and a relatively mild entry into the winter heating season helping to hold down demand for natural gas. This is good news for customers, especially in this difficult economic climate."

Minnesota Energy Resources, a subsidiary of Rosemount-based Integrys Energy Group, provides natural gas to customers in much of northern Minnesota.