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Higher natural gas bills hit home

UNDATED (WSAU-Wheeler News)  Wisconsin natural gas customers are complaining to their utilities, their local news media, and state officials after their bills skyrocketed this month.

We Energies, the state's largest natural gas supplier, raised its residential bills by $30 from February to March due to higher wholesale costs. Utilities normally buy their winter supplies in advance to take advantage of lower prices. But We Energies spokesman Brian Manthey said its advance supplies dried up during the long and cold winter -- so it had to buy much more expensive gas on the open market that was in short supply. We Energies now says customers can expect to pay 35-percent more this winter than last for their natural gas. A normal six-month bill will average $739, up from $552 a year ago.

A spokesman for the state's utility regulating agency said the weather wasn't the only thing that drove prices higher. Nathan Conrad also cites an explosion in Canada that cut off a gas pipeline into Wisconsin. He said his office has fielded almost five dozen calls about high natural prices. Some want to eliminate the utilities' ability to pass on its unexpected fuel costs -- but the state has no plans to do that.