Originally created 09/05/01

Retail natural gas prices fail to drop



ATLANTA - Georgia natural gas marketers say the high number of uncollected bills will keep them from passing along lower wholesale gas prices to consumers.

Gas marketers said the number of outstanding bills left over from the winter's heating season will keep retail prices essentially the same in September as in August.

Exceptions among the top Georgia marketers are an 8 percent drop in Scana Energy's variable price and a 14 percent increase in the fixed price offered by Shell Energy.

According to a report by analysts at Merrill Lynch Global Securities, wholesale natural gas prices have been in a "free fall."

At one Louisiana source, the price dropped 14 percent in two weeks and closed Friday at $2.58 per million British thermal units. That translates to a price of about 23 cents per therm for the consumer.

Retailers, who add charges for interstate pipeline costs and their own administration, are charging about three times that much.

The marketers have been cutting service to thousands of nonpaying customers to clear a backlog of unpaid accounts that still includes 80,000 of the 1.5 million served by Atlanta Gas Light Co., which distributes the gas for the marketers.

The marketers estimate they are owed $100 million from overdue bills.