Two sides of the same coin.
Janine Migden-Ostrander is the consumers’ counsel for the state of Ohio. Contact her at 614-466-8574. The author expresses gratitude for the expertise and assistance of Wilson Gonzalez, senior regulatory analyst at the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel. His work has helped further the agency’s vision of producing benefits for residential utility consumers through energy-efficiency efforts.
When I became the Consumers’ Counsel for the state of Ohio in April 2004, natural-gas prices were hovering between $7/Mcf and $8/Mcf (thousand cubic feet). In the next year and a half, Ohioans saw gas prices double, peaking at a residential statewide average of $16.89/Mcf in the month of September 2005.1 The latter reflects the exacerbation of prices, already high, by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the gulf region. Residential customers across Ohio struggled to pay their gas bills. Particularly hard hit were customers in the 150th to 250th percentile of the poverty guideline, for whom no federal or state programs were available. These customers, who traditionally struggle, but manage nevertheless to pay their bills and make ends meet, found themselves overwhelmed.
Prior to the upsurge in natural-gas prices in 2004, energy bills for Ohio’s low-income customers were $740 million more than what is generally accepted as affordable.2 To say we have a problem on our hands is an understatement.