Courtesy of PGW, citizens get the cold shoulder before a harsh winter

Anyone who has driven a car in the last year knows that the price of gasoline has skyrocketed. Yet, while we spend our time complaining because we have to carpool or take mass transit to

Anyone who has driven a car in the last year knows that the price of gasoline has skyrocketed.

Yet, while we spend our time complaining because we have to carpool or take mass transit to save money, we seem to breeze over the fact that keeping ourselves warm this winter could prove to be an expensive problem as well.

According to an October article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Gas Works has increased its rates by 19.4 percent (about $300 more per year) since September – a number that is expected to rise in Philadelphia and throughout the rest of the country.

USA Today reported last month that natural gas prices will increase by an average of 48 percent as a result of the Gulf Coast hurricanes, which was a key supply line for the country’s natural gas.

I don’t want to sound like a broken ‘alternative fuel source record, but we should not be satisfied with dependence on a fuel source with a price that is so easily affected by variables beyond our control.

Even disregarding the fact that natural disasters like Katrina have the ability to cut the Gulf’s supply line nearly in half, relatively normal weather conditions can affect natural gas prices too.

Jan Davis, an official for a Nebraska gas company, explained the gas price situation by saying, “If we have a cold winter starting in November and December, it could drive prices very, very high and create major problems for customers. On the other hand, if we have warmer-than-usual weather, there is an expectation that the market will soften.” Basically, what Davis is saying is that gas prices will be lower if it does not get cold … in the winter. I won’t get my hopes up.

Steps can be taken to reduce the amount of natural gas usage in homes, but they can be an expensive investment that many cannot afford. Some homes need thousands of dollars in improvements to make them more heat-efficient.

The 48,000 people in PGW’s service area at risk of having their service shut off by mid-January cannot be expected to make these adjustments. Incidentally, that number is just an optimistic estimate given by PGW to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

After receiving more freedom to shut off service of customers who have not paid during the colder winter months, PGW provided this estimate in order to illustrate how it is going to be “careful and judicious” in its use of this newly found freedom.

Hopefully, Councilman Darrell L. Clarke of the Transportation and Public Utilities Committee will be successful in his suggestions for the city, or even the state, to provide assistance to those who cannot afford the new rise in gas prices.

Until then, there are some inexpensive steps provided by the American Gas Association that can be taken to reduce the need for natural gas in the 55 percent of homes that use it in the United States.

Some include lowering the temperature to 58 degrees when leaving the house for more than a few hours, using an extra blanket at night in order to turn down the temperature and sealing any leaks in the windows, ducts and other openings in the house through which heat can escape.

These steps are merely short-term solutions. Government officials either need to push for a new source of heat in our households, or we all need to find a better way to manage our natural gas.

What we need is a more efficient energy source. Antimatter is an attractive answer to the problem, as it is speculated to be 100 percent efficient.

Too bad the technology is so underdeveloped that merely a gram could annihilate Philadelphia. Perhaps hydrogen would be better to develop first.

One thing is for certain. We cannot act as if there is a never-ending supply of natural gas because, as Hurricane Katrina has showed us, one unfortunate event can put our situation with natural gas into a tailspin.

Bryan Payne can be reached at

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