Lawrence residents should see lower natural gas bills this winter, if Mother Nature will just cooperate a little bit.
Natural gas prices are projected to be about 30 percent less this winter than last winter, city leaders were told Wednesday at a luncheon hosted by Black Hills Energy. Now, everyone will just need to watch the weather.
“If it doesn’t get any colder than last year, people will have lower bills this winter,” said Curt Floerchinger, a spokesman for Black Hills Energy, which is the major natural gas provider in the city.
Black Hills leaders said the natural gas market is in a favorable trend, and there are signs that natural gas prices may not be as volatile as they have been in past years.
“It used to be that you saw a strong correlation between the price of natural gas and the price of oil,” said Steve Hanna, director of operations for Black Hills’ Kansas operations. “But we don’t see that correlation like we used to.”
Hanna said the natural gas market is changing as new technology is developed to extract more gas. In particular, the rush to extract natural gas from shale has opened up new areas of the country for natural gas exploration. More energy-efficient building practices also have homes using less gas than in decades past.
“We think it adds up to what should be some good gas prices for the winter,” Hanna said.
In other news, Black Hills officials announced:
• Plans are in the works to install a compressed natural gas fueling station in the city. The company plans to have the fueling station open by the end of the year at its Eighth and Pennsylvania work yard. The station, which will provide fuel for new vehicles that run off of compressed natural gas, won’t be open to the general public. Instead, it will be used by the company as it begins to convert its fleet over to compressed natural gas. Blacks Hills leaders, though, said they would be open to discussing how other large users like the city of Lawrence or Kansas University could take advantage of the station in the future.
• Work is under way to convert all of the natural gas meters in the city to electronic devices that can be read remotely. A $3 million project to convert the meters should be done by March. Once completed, the company will be able to read meters simply by driving up and down a street. A specially equipped van will collect the electronic readings. The project will cause the company to reduce its local meter-reading staff from four positions to one. The company is working to find jobs for those employees either within Black Hills or with other companies in the Lawrence area.