Natural gas rates to drop 9%

People in York County will get some relief on heating bills this winter.

The county's natural gas authority announced Thursday it has lowered its rates by 9.15 percent effective this month, the result of a global drop in the wholesale cost of natural gas.

Residential customers should see an average decrease of $167 over the entire November through March billing period.

Two factors are credited with enabling the drop: Factories are scaling back on production in the poor economy, and a milder summer than usual cut down on energy consumption. Some parts of the country use natural gas to produce electricity.

Bottom line, it's a basic case of supply and demand.

"That means the price is going to drop," said general manager Jim Heckle. "Any time we can pass the savings on to the customer, that's what we're here to do."

The York County Natural Gas Authority, created by South Carolina lawmakers in 1954, acts as a not-for-profit corporation that must use all revenues to either expand its system or reduce its rates. It serves about 52,000 customers in York County and a portion of northeastern Cherokee County.

This is the authority's second rate decrease since Sept. 1. The reduction totals 22.39 percent.

Local social service agencies welcomed the news, saying it will bring a measure of relief to families struggling to pay the bills.

Overwhelmed by requests for help, a crisis assistance agency in Charlotte is providing aid only to people who have already had their power turned off, the Rev. Paul Hanneman told an audience Thursday in Rock Hill. Hanneman, program director at Charlotte's Urban Ministry Center, spoke at a hunger banquet held as part of National Hunger & Homeless Awareness Week.

Hanneman said the downturn in the economy has yet to show its full effect on the homeless population.

"We're behind the curve," he said.

Calls for help on power bills are up 50 percent over last year at Pilgrim's Inn, a shelter near downtown Rock Hill for women and families.

"Any amount of relief is a major thing," said Laura Walton, an emergency assistance specialist at the Inn. "More people are not working now, and that's one less thing they have to worry about."