Natural gas prices skyrocket


Image: Natural gas prices skyrocket::

Greg Kane

Already cash-strapped students living in off-campus housing received an unpleasant surprise recently when they opened their Pacific Gas and Electric bills to find that the cost of service had doubled and, in some cases,tripled.

Due to the state?s ongoing energy crisis, in particular the shortage of natural gas, PG&E was forced to hike its rates drastically this month, said PG&E spokesperson Lisa Randle. The price of natural gas has risen from 79 cents per British Thermal Unit (BTU) in October 2000 to $1.72 per BTU this past January.

“What customers are experiencing now is a result of the increase of natural gas prices,” Randle said. “It?s nothing that PG&E makes a profit from.”

The shortage can be traced back to California?s deregulation of energy in 1996, when the low prices that followed led to a decline in natural gas production, Randle said. Now there isn?t enough being produced, and both demand and cost have gone through the roof.”Low demand meant no gas valves were made, so now the prices are high,” Randle said.Though most were aware that there would be some sort of hike, many Sacramento State students say they were still shocked when they looked at their bills for January.

Junior Claudia Crespin said that she and her roommates did nothing out of the ordinary with their electricity, but her PG&E bill had bloated from about $50 a month to more than $200, causing quite a stir in the household.

“My other roommate is pissed,” Crespin said. “He?s never around, so he blames me for it.”

Even worse than the actual price of the hike is its timing, particularly for Sac State students, Crespin said. February is the time of the year when students are trying to recover from paying for tuition, parking and books, so added expenses like this can be far more difficult to handle.

“I don?t have the money to keep paying for the high bills,” Crespin said. “I haven?t gotten my financial aid yet, so I?m in the hole with money.”

Senior Robert Romero said that he also noticed an increase in his PG&E bill, but it was only about $10 to $15 higher that normal. He credits the small size of his Midtown apartment and his sparing use of the heater for saving him from the huge expenses.”I try not to use the heat very much, only when absolutely necessary,” Romero said. “And it?s a small place, and I live alone.”

Students living off-campus aren?t the only people on campus who are being affected by high gas bills. Sac State director of Housing and Residential Life, Cynthia Cockrall, said that she and any other faculty members who have the need to heat their homes are also receiving bloated PG&E bills this month.

“It?s affecting all of us, myself included,” Cockrall said. “Everyone?s aghast with what?s going on.”

The high rates may have an impact on the cost of student housing in the future as well, Cockrall said. Gas and utility costs in the dorms have ballooned lately, and those figures play a big role in determining housing rates.

In order to save money during the gas shortage, students are going to have to try to be more economical, both with their use of electricity as well as other spending habits, Cockrall said. She added that the implications might branch out into the rest of the economy as well.

“This situation is going to drive an economic upheaval for people,” Cockrall said. “Planning is going to be essential.”

Crespin jokingly admitted that if the rates continue to be this high, she might have to just shut the heat off and find other ways to keep warm.

“Instead of having the heat on, [my roommates and I] are all just going to have to huddle together,” Crespin said. “We?ll just have one big sleepover.”